Rugby: Blues' mission impossible

By Campbell Burnes

Coach Kirwan says side capable of beating Chiefs by an unlikely 38-point margin to make playoffs.

Ihaia West, who signed a two-year deal with the Blues, has impressed John Kirwan. Photo / Getty Images
Ihaia West, who signed a two-year deal with the Blues, has impressed John Kirwan. Photo / Getty Images

The equation is simple for the Blues to make the Super Rugby playoffs: win by a clear 38 points this Friday at their Eden Park fortress.

Coach John Kirwan has done the maths and is optimistic as ever about this "mission impossible". A 38-point win over the resurgent Chiefs, with a bonus point, will edge the Blues ahead of the Hurricanes on points differential and into sixth position, barring something outrageous in the Brumbies-Force clash. If they can do that, with the weather closing in and against the defending champs, whom they have not beaten since 2011, then they will deserve to be there.

"If there's one team in this country that can probably do it, it's us, so we're excited," said Kirwan. "If we take the right attitude into the game, it's going to be a fun evening."

Kirwan was anxious to talk about the rugby rather than possible comings and goings at the franchise at yesterday's media session. He had no fresh comment on Ma'a Nonu's imminent departure, nor what the Blues supposedly offered Beauden Barrett to decamp north, and no news yet on the make-up of his 2015 coaching team.

But he was happy to trumpet the signing of first five Ihaia West to a two-year deal, with Simon Hickey's signature in the offing.

"[Ihaia's] incredibly relaxed under pressure and has a great temperament that you need in a 10. Nothing seems to faze him; he came into the football team midway through the year but it was like he'd been here for five years," said Kirwan.

Centre Pita Ahki, who has been good value in the last few games, has been released to the Commonwealth Games sevens squad, so Francis Saili will likely slot in, while wing Tevita Li will surely be promoted to replace Frank Halai, who has an ankle sprain. Tony Woodcock is nursing a shoulder injury and is rated "50-50" to play, where he would be marking Ben Tameifuna, who has scored doubles in each of his last two clashes with the Blues. Chiefs assistant coach Tom Coventry knows his charges will have a response to Kirwan's belief that the Blues can create rugby gold on Friday, but he was more philosophical.

"That's the role of the coach, to keep things positive. Anything can happen in this competition. I can understand he's pushing that tune to his players. I'd certainly be doing it in a similar situation," he said.

Coventry said the Chiefs were not looking much further than the win, which would guarantee a playoffs berth; the bonus point could help a possible home quarter-final, but the team's focus will be on replicating their display from the win over the Hurricanes, which relied more on cohesion and game plan than individual brilliance.

Some of the lesser lights such as Asaeli Tikoirotuma and Liam Squire stood tall, and Coventry likes the latter's work in the wider channels, as well as the improved lineout. The scrum will need to be more stable against the seasoned Blues' front-row.

The Chiefs will do everything to ensure flanker Tanerau Latimer does not end his fine Chiefs career this Friday. The 28-year-old heads to Japan after Super Rugby, and Coventry said his leadership and general play would be sorely missed.

Blues v Chiefs since 2011

2012
• Chiefs won 29-14, Hamilton
• Chiefs won 41-34, Albany

2013
• Chiefs won 23-16, Mt Maunganui
• Chiefs won 26-16, Auckland

2014
• Chiefs won 32-20, New Plymouth.

- NZ Herald

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