Patrick McKendry

Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

Rugby: Second S African loss threatens disappointing end ahead for Blues

Francis Saili battles past Philip van der Walt of the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein. Photo / Getty Images
Francis Saili battles past Philip van der Walt of the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein. Photo / Getty Images

A season low on expectation but with plenty of highlights is threatening to come to a rather downbeat conclusion for the Blues.

Their 34-13 loss to the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein yesterday was their second defeat in South Africa after a narrow loss to the Sharks in Durban the week before and their fifth in a row in total. It ended any last hopes they had of making the playoffs.

There were echoes of the defeat at King's Park to the Sharks in this most recent one, too, although in this case they were in touch until the final seven minutes, rather than conceding a last-minute try to lose it.

With what will be a desperate Chiefs team looking forward to making amends for their collapse against the Crusaders, this Saturday night's clash at Eden Park will be a huge challenge for Sir John Kirwan's men.

"The most disappointing thing is that we didn't play well at all today, it was one of our worst performances," Kirwan said on the Blues website.

"We were still in it with eight minutes to go but it was a very disappointing way to end the season when we still had a chance of making the top six."

The Blues' lack of experience has been cruelly exposed after the highs of beating the Crusaders at Eden Park and doing the double over the Hurricanes. While they have brilliant young talent in new All Blacks Steven Luatua, Charles Piutau and Francis Saili, with the improving Frank Halai, the lack of maturity added to an absence of depth has hurt them.

Take away Piri Weepu, sent home last week with injured ribs, and the backline has a brittle look about it. Halfback Jamison Gibson-Park, a try-scorer, and first-five Baden Kerr tried their hearts out yesterday, but they couldn't make consistent inroads into a Cheetahs team which flopped badly against the Stormers the week before and had to win to guarantee themselves a place in the playoffs for the first time.

"It's a bit of a reality check for us," Kirwan said. "We can play. We have ability. Although the side is very young we have to learn about preparation and professionalism and things like that."

Kirwan felt his side's most disappointing performances, apart from this most recent loss, were the slip-ups against the Waratahs in Sydney and Highlanders in Dunedin. "We weren't professional enough to go down there and do the job," he said of the big loss to Jamie Joseph's men.

Rene Ranger, the Blues' best attacking weapon, cut a frustrated figure on the left wing at Free State Stadium - his carving 50m run from his own line in the second half was, a bit like the Blues' season, a case of what might have been.

- APNZ

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