Rugby: Ali - Blues performance 'let Jock down'

By Paul Lewis

Ma'a Nonu. Photo / Getty Images
Ma'a Nonu. Photo / Getty Images

Stormers 27 Blues 17

"He was a great guy. To be honest, I feel like I have let him down and I'm sure the other boys do as well," said Ali Williams of the late Jock Hobbs at the end of this match.

It wasn't hard to see how disappointed the Blues were at losing what was supposed to be a tribute to Hobbs, the former chairman of the New Zealand Rugby Union and a man who had played a major role in shaping the careers of the Blues and all professional rugby players.

Williams looked crushed - and that was what the Blues were early in the second half when they trailed the Stormers by 24-3 in an error-marked display. Too many times the Blues turned the ball over, misplaced their kicks or mishandled and a disciplined Stormers outfit took advantage.

Worse, the injury-wracked team also lost skipper Keven Mealamu to a knee injury for most of the second half - and the Blues will not be happy with him joining a sick room already populated by the likes of Tony Woodcock, Jerome Kaino, Isaia Toeava, Rudi Wulf, David Raikuna, George Moala, Rene Ranger (suspended) and Michael Hobbs, with his family after his father's death.

Even worse again, flanker Luke Braid was cited for elbowing a Stormers player and could face a ban.

Perhaps not surprisingly with all those influential players missing, the Blues looked little like the side that unseated the Bulls last week. However, this kind of inconsistency has haunted the Blues in recent years under coach Pat Lam. At 24-3 down not long after halftime, it was not hard to contemplate the possibility of a decent hammering to end the Blues' trip to the Republic.

However, they showed what they could do when they hang on to the ball and attack with continuity - scoring tries to Benson Stanley and Charlie Faumuina within minutes of each other and mustering some telling attacks to pull up to 24-17 with 15 minutes to go.

The Blues had a vulnerable and inexperienced look to them before they took the field and that came through in some pressure moments. Bryan Habana is now just one try away from a record (for a South African) 50th touchdown in Super Rugby - and he will hope for more gifts like this one to score the 10 tries he needs to join Doug Howlett at the top of the Super Rugby career try-scoring table. It came from an error by Blues right wing Ben Lam - on debut after Raikuna pulled out with a late injury. Lam fatally waited for the second bounce when he could have caught the ball after the first near the left corner. Habana claimed it and clattered through the tackles of Lam and fullback Lachie Munro to score.

It was 17-3 at halftime and 24-3 when Springbok midfielder Jean de Villiers powered over after more mistakes by the Blues early in the second half - a missed tackle by Luke Braid did not help.

The Stormers were all that the Blues were not - powerful on defence, nothing special on attack but simple, direct and clinical. Even last week's scored-all-the-points hero Gareth Anscombe looked a more hesitant figure in this match.

In contrast, Stormers fullback Joe Pietersen provided a couple of early penalties and illustrated the Stormers' efficient demeanour. He kicked five penalties in all as the Stormers profited from their possession and positional advantage, often courtesy of the Blues' generosity.

That included the final blow - a late penalty late which cruelly took the bonus point away from the Blues. After coming back powerfully to get within seven points with 15 minutes to go, thoughts of a thrilling comeback victory had began to stir. It wasn't to be. The Stormers collected themselves and trusted in their set pieces and their driving play at the breakdown. That was more than the Blues could say. The Stormers scrum wreaked havoc, the Blues couldn't manage a final fling and their fans were left with an all too familiar sensation - up one week, down the next.

Stormers 27 (J. De Villiers, B. Habana tries, J. Pietersen con, 5 pens), Blues 17 (C. Faumuina, B. Stanley tries; G. Anscombe 2 cons, L. Munro pen). Halftime 17-3.

- Herald on Sunday

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