Chris Rattue is a sports columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

Rugby: Blues crash out in fifth straight loss

Riaan Smit of the Cheetahs (R) is tagged by Angus Ta'avao of the Blues. Photo / Getty Images
Riaan Smit of the Cheetahs (R) is tagged by Angus Ta'avao of the Blues. Photo / Getty Images

The Blues crashed to a fifth straight Super 15 defeat, against the Cheetahs, to end their remote hopes of a playoffs appearance in Sir John Kirwan's first season in charge.

In a scrappy game at Bloemfontein, they were well beaten 34 - 13 by the fast finishing Cheetahs, who have made the finals for the first time in their eight-season history.

With a round still to play, the top six contenders are already known. The Cheetahs will join the Chiefs, Bulls, Brumbies, Crusaders and Reds. The sixth-placed Cheetahs are guaranteed four points from their final round bye.

The Blues' playoff bid looked in trouble after a late Sharks' try sent them to defeat in the previous round. They were found wanting against the Cheetahs, and looked a long way short of title-contending material in what has become a disappointing end to a season that started with optimism via victories over the Hurricanes and Crusaders Captain Ali Williams, in his post match television interview, paid tribute to the Naka Drotske-coached Cheetahs who he described as playing like "men possessed".

The Blues' problems included an inability to maintain possession and a haphazard kicking game. As against the Sharks, their scrum struggled although on this occasion the pack did have their moments of success in a topsy-turvy battle.

With their best attacking weapon Rene Ranger almost a bystander on the wing, the Blues went into halftime trailing by 10 - 19, having faded after scoring the opening try to halfback Jamison Gibson-Park.

The game stuttered along in a sparsely populated Free State Stadium until the final quarter when the Cheetahs powered home through tries to replacements Sarel Pretorius and Boom Prinsloo. The Cheetahs were aided by a seven-from-seven goalkicking effort from Riaan Smit. The lively Springboks wing Willie le Roux was a roving danger who switched to a more central role, although like the game itself his good intentions went astray now and then.

Williams, the veteran lock who retired from test rugby this year, refused to speculate on his own future next season when Kirwan will have to start again in more respects than he may have wished.

Kirwan's supposed Blues revolution, initially a breath of fresh air after the disasters of Pat Lam's reign, has stumbled and looks in need of a major overhaul itself, although the Blues did promote exciting new backline talent to higher levels.

Williams said: "They (the Cheetahs) outclassed us. They strangled a team like us. We had a great year but unfortunately we've fallen short."

The Blues face a daunting final assignment at Eden Park against the champion Chiefs, who will be smarting after a major defeat against the Crusaders and desperate to maintain a good seeding.

Cheetahs 34: Phillip van der Walt, Sarel Pretorius, Boom Prinsloo tries; Riaan Smit 5 pen, 2 con.

Blues 13: Jamison Gibson-Park try; Baden Kerr 2 pen, con.
Halftime: 19 - 10.

- NZ Herald

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