Patrick McKendry

Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

Rugby: Blues need buckets of luck

Kirwan's team, having missed their chance against the Chiefs, need something special to make playoffs now.

Jerome Kaino of the Blues. Photo / Getty Images
Jerome Kaino of the Blues. Photo / Getty Images

The loss to the Chiefs not only extended the Blues' away losing record to 13 in a row, it also effectively ended their chances of making the playoffs.

The Sharks, Hurricanes, Force, Crusaders and Chiefs are the formidable opposition to come for the Blues after next weekend's bye, and John Kirwan's men will probably need to win at least four of those matches to have any chance.

Watch: Rugby highlights: Chiefs 32 Blues 20

Only two, the Hurricanes and Chiefs, are at Eden Park, where they are unbeaten this season. The match against the table-topping Sharks is also a home fixture, but it's at North Harbour Stadium and given the Blues' inability to win away from their HQ, whether their home form extends north of the bridge is anyone's guess.

Since the competition was extended to 15 teams in 2011, and the top six have entered the playoffs, the lowest number of points required to qualify (minus the eight points automatically given to teams for their two byes during those three seasons) reads 49, 51 and 46.

The Blues, who last made the playoffs in 2011, Pat Lam's penultimate season, are on 25 points and will get no points next weekend because of their break. Four victories, with no bonus points, in their final five matches would put them on 41. If by some freakish lift in form and attitude they were to win their last five matches with bonus points they would be on 50 points.

The writing, then, appears to be on the wall for Kirwan's men, who showed in their excellent performances at home - the victories over the Crusaders, Waratahs and Reds in particular - that they have the talent to be better than also-rans.

Dogged by poor starts, a wobbly set piece and porous defence early in the season, it appeared those problems had been ironed out on their return from South Africa. Instead, new problems crept in. They were out-thought against the Brumbies in Canberra, limp against the Hurricanes in Wellington and were again disappointing in their most recent road trip disaster, the 32-20 defeat to a much-improved Chiefs team in New Plymouth.

Their start was a good one and resulted in a deserved try to promising wing Lolagi Visinia, but their night once again unravelled - their main issues an inability to compete with a Chiefs' pack prepared to push the laws to the limit, and a backline which lacked direction after a promising first quarter.

The knee injury to fullback Charles Piutau, their most dangerous back and one of the best in the competition, which will put him out for two months, compounded the miserable journey.

Kirwan put on a brave face, but must know that the Yarrow Stadium defeat was effectively the last straw.

"I'm not concerned, really," he said afterwards. "We've got two home games now then the rest of the season, so we're still there or thereabouts. It would've been nice to win and we've been put under pressure by not getting that win ... we need to get home and lick our wounds a bit and make sure we win those two home games to get on the horse."

i>Watch: Rugby highlights: Crusaders 57 Reds 29

Playoff push

Blues
Bye
v Sharks (home)
v Hurricanes (home)
v Force (away)
v Crusaders (away)
v Chiefs (home)

Chiefs
Bye
v Hurricanes (away)
v Waratahs (home)
v Highlanders (away)
v Hurricanes (home)
v Blues (away)

Hurricanes
v Highlanders (home)
v Chiefs (home)
v Blues (away)
v Crusaders (home)
v Chiefs (away)
Bye

Crusaders
v Sharks (home)
v Highlanders (away)
v Force (home)
v Hurricanes (away)
v Blues (home)
v Highlanders (home)

Highlanders
v Hurricanes (away)
v Crusaders (home)
v Reds (away)
v Chiefs (home)
v Waratahs (away)
v Crusaders (away)

- APNZ

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