Patrick McKendry

Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

Rugby: Blues upbeat in slow start

Ball possession advantage and solid lineout give Kirwan some positives.

Keven Mealamu during a Blues Super Rugby training session at Unitec on January 28, 2014 in Auckland, New Zealand. (Photo by Jason Oxenham/Getty Images)
Keven Mealamu during a Blues Super Rugby training session at Unitec on January 28, 2014 in Auckland, New Zealand. (Photo by Jason Oxenham/Getty Images)

Amid the gloom of a disappointing start to the season by the Blues in Dunedin, there were glimpses of positivity, and not only from coach Sir John Kirwan who claimed he was extremely upbeat at halftime despite the 24-0 deficit to the Highlanders.

The Blues had an overwhelming possession advantage - their overall time of 19 minutes and 47 seconds with the ball, according to the Herald's Stats Centre, was the best in the competition for round two.

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In the second half they almost completely owned the ball as they began their fightback to respectability. The response was ultimately futile - a late chance for a losing bonus point was missed when Chris Noakes' penalty attempt went wide - but Kirwan can use it as a building block ahead of the Crusaders match at Eden Park on Friday night.

The lineout was also a positive after being a weak link last year. The Blues won four lineout steals against the Highlanders, despite the home side having the likes of Brad Thorn, Jarrad Hoeata, Nasi Manu, and later, Josh Bekhuis, in their line-up.

Last year they averaged 0.8 lineout steals a match, the worst in the competition.

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The problem was the lack of direction and intent which allowed them to drop into such a big hole. Noakes, likely to be retained at No 10, will need to be more decisive against the Crusaders because a similar start could be punished severely, although Todd Blackadder's men have issues of their own - particularly a backline which looked mediocre against the Chiefs.

The Crusaders lost George Whitelock and Dominic Bird to the sinbin for ruck offences, while the Blues impressed with their discipline after time and again falling foul of referees last season.

Blackadder's men will, however, be nursing a sense of injustice on the way to Auckland - Ben Tameifuna, sinbinned by Chris Pollock for a ruck offence, was penalised for a similar act only after a Crusaders' lineout drive was stopped a metre or so from the Chiefs' line, a fact touched on by Blackadder afterwards. Another yellow card would have been a straight red for Tameifuna.

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Instead, the Chiefs kept their full complement and stole a try of their own in the dying minutes which, after it was converted from the sideline by Aaron Cruden, denied the Crusaders a losing bonus point.

The Hurricanes, who started with a 27-9 defeat to the Sharks in Durban, will need to improve their scrum against the Stormers in Cape Town this weekend. They lost three scrums and failed to stress the Sharks' defence - their 70 carries was the lowest of the weekend.

- APNZ

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