Patrick McKendry

Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

Rugby: Forwards weak link for Blues

Numbers show scrum and lineout are among worst-performing in competition.

Promising lock Patrick Tuipulotu's knee problem put pressure on the Blues' second row. Photo / Getty Images
Promising lock Patrick Tuipulotu's knee problem put pressure on the Blues' second row. Photo / Getty Images

The feeling of positivity around the Blues after their victory over the Crusaders has all but evaporated in the aftermath of their South African tour, and while Sir John Kirwan is likely to tinker with his line-up again this week, his major task should be improving the performance of his pack.

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He cannot allow the incredible fightback from his team in the 39-36 loss to the Lions in Johannesburg to paper over the cracks, five tries in the final 30 minutes notwithstanding.

That a fightback was needed for the Blues to get close was in itself no great surprise - his side has been haunted by poor starts in all of their four matches, the win over the Crusaders at Eden Park included - and a big factor has been the lacklustre efforts from his men up front.

It can be seen in the numbers - the Blues' scrum and lineout are among the worst in the competition - and in areas that cannot be measured such as the willingness to make an impact in contact with or without the ball.

The backline, which has scored 11 of the team's 13 tries, has not been without fault, but it must be allowed to have a greater impact for longer.

According to the Rugby Herald's Stats Centre, the Blues have won an average of only 4.3 scrums a match, the worst in the competition. They are conceding an incredible three scrum losses a match, also the worst in the competition.

Against the Lions they were too easily pushed off an attacking scrum in the first half. In the defeat to the Bulls in Pretoria a week earlier, they conceded an early tighthead which led to a try despite Bulls' No 8 Jono Ross giving only the smallest of shoves as he prepared to detach and put pressure on a kicker.

The Blues also lose on average three lineouts a match, the second worst in the competition.

Promising lock Patrick Tuipulotu's knee problem has put more pressure on the Blues' second row, but Hayden Triggs had a run for the development team last week and will come into consideration. Tom Donnelly and Liaki Moli are the only other senior options.While the Blues wrestle with their issues, the Cheetahs, beaten 60-27 by the Hurricanes in Wellington at the weekend, could be the ideal team to play them back into form at Eden Park on Saturday.

The statistics indicate the South Africans have trouble holding on to the ball and as a result are forced to make a lot of tackles. Their set piece isn't particularly efficient and they also concede a lot of turnovers - something the Blues' backs have the ability to punish.

With seven competition points thanks to the big win over the Crusaders and the two losing bonus points against the Lions, the Blues desperately need to add to their tally.

Kirwan said after the Lions' loss he felt his team were still in touch, but a defeat to the Cheetahs would put a serious dent in his plans. There is potential for plenty of running rugby on Saturday but Kirwan's forwards must set the standard.

- APNZ

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