Wynne Gray 's Opinion

Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

Wynne Gray: Blues need grit before glory

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Kirwan's passion can fuel team's success but they'll need a base of strength as they face the Bulls in Pretoria.

Passion is at the core of John Kirwan's world. It powers his temperament, his family life and his work with the Blues.

He would have gone through the emotional wringer at Eden Park as his side sagged early before sending the Crusaders to the dressing room despairing of a repeat defeat.

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Emotion only gets you so far in the sporting world. It helps in the fury of the contest and can be the spark to build on rather than the ultimate weapon for rugby sides.

It was on hold for the Blues as they went through a tough half an hour opening against the Crusaders. Their energy was blunted with lineout malfunctions as the tenacious Crusaders opened up a decent lead. One more dagger blow and the Blues were in serious trouble.

Time to use their backline talent and express the style Kirwan wants. Frank Halai did the business before teen Tevita Li did too, stepping through traffic and into the open spaces where he mocked more defenders.

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Kaboom, the Blues had flicked the switch, they had their motor humming and were not about to tone down the revs.

Not even when they headed for the sheds at halftime.

Kirwan is on a crusade to get more passion back into his side and stir more support from Aucklanders. Beating the Crusaders was a strong step and a serious turnaround from the bland start against the Highlanders.

Now the hard slog begins. The Blues must build on the Eden Park performance with precise technical improvements rather than relying on spirit to get them past the Bulls in Pretoria this week.

They have to recover from the effects of their long-haul flight in a city which is boiling about the dramatic murder trial of bladerunner Oscar Pistorius. Much of the sporting spotlight on the Blues will dim as the world's media envelops the North Gauteng High Court.

Many of the Blues will be playing for the first time on the Highveld against a Bulls side which has been slow to boil, insists on narrow tactics and has recycled Victor Matfield into their lineup.

The Blues must bring a smart resilient plan for this game. If they are fit then a version of the pattern the All Blacks used last year on the Highveld will come into play.

They have to stand up in the set-piece duels then entice the Bulls away from the attritional slow grind into the more laissez-faire lanes on the park.

After dull losses to the Sharks and Cheetahs, the Bulls found enough of their old mojo to see off the previously unbeaten Lions.

Spice and entertainment were not on the Bulls' agenda. Five-eighths Jacques-Louis Potgeiter kicked 20 points as the Bulls arm-wrestled their way to a win in difficult conditions.

There were pragmatic lessons for the Blues to absorb. They got a bonus with Simon Hickey's debut, Patrick Tuipulotu's vigour and Li's zest. They are three talented young men whose performances will vary as they work through the early phases of their professional rugby lives.

The rest need to deliver a strong foundation for the passion to flourish.

nzherald.co.nz

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- NZ Herald

Wynne Gray

Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

NZ Herald senior rugby writer Wynne Gray has been covering the All Blacks for almost 25 years and has attended more than 230 All Blacks tests live for the Herald.

Read more by Wynne Gray

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