Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

Blues turn to mental skills coach to help improve away form

James Parsons of the Blues. Photo / Getty Images.
James Parsons of the Blues. Photo / Getty Images.

In salvaging a draw against the Reds in Brisbane before their Easter break, the Blues failed to secure their first away victory in almost two years, but have consoled themselves that it at least wasn't a loss.

Now, with the emotions of that result still running high among a few - including James Parsons, who will captain the side in their next match against the Jaguares on Saturday - they are turning their attentions to another record they don't want; their recent run at QBE North Harbour Stadium.

To help with that they are receiving assistance from their mental skills coach Kylie Wilson - the rationale presumably being that if they want to improve their away record they have to start with the one at their second home.

The Blues haven't won at Albany since May 2013 when Chris Noakes kicked six penalties in an 18-17 victory over the Stormers, who scored two tries through Springboks midfielder Jean de Villiers.

Since then they have played three games there and lost the lot, including two last year - a 23-18 reverse to the Chiefs in round one, and a 13-10 defeat to the Lions, a match like many others they should have won in John Kirwan's final year in charge.

As North Harbour's captain Parsons, who will lead the Blues in the injury-enforced absence of regular skipper Jerome Kaino, knows the ground - and his Super Rugby team's record there - well.

"A rugby field is a rugby field," he said. "We're doing a lot of work on the mental side of the game with Kylie Wilson. We've shown in the past against big teams that we can win there. I don't think a ground really plays too much into it. It's about how you prepare and how well you know your role."

Parsons added: "We acknowledge it's an issue and it's something we're striving to improve. Yes, we didn't get the result in Queensland but a draw is better than a loss. For a young group to bring that game home the way they did, I was extremely proud of that effort because with 10 minutes to go and 10 points behind, I don't know if in the past we would have had the common sense or rugby nous to get across the line but they did it with great self belief and execution."

Parsons watched the final moments of the Reds match on the reserves bench when the message came from the coaches that Ihaia West should kick the penalty after the hooter to draw it rather than roll the dice and go for the win. West didn't appear happy with the decision, but Parsons believes it was the right one and that everyone agreed during last week's debrief held before the team's bye over Easter.

"It came down early - that's what the coaches decided," Parsons said. "I think it was brave of the coaches to take it out of the players' hands. Josh [Bekhuis] was captain at the time and it made a very difficult decision easy for the players."

The Jaguares, who arrived in Auckland from Buenos Aires this morning for their first eve match in New Zealand, are likely to apply a blowtorch to the Blues' scrum after seeing their rivals struggle there in Brisbane.

They have also shown a willingness to run the ball which could play into the Blues' hands.

"They're an electric bunch - they're the highest offloading team in the competition," Parsons said. "We're aware of their No9, No15 and No10, who like to run around and speed the game up, and their forwards are big men who don't mind throwing the odd basketball pass."

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