Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Rugby: Blues back on the right track

Blues 24 Jaguares 16
Ihaia West got on the scoreboard against the Jaguares. Photo / Getty Images
Ihaia West got on the scoreboard against the Jaguares. Photo / Getty Images

The toss can be argued later as to whether this was an away victory. The only bit the Blues need to care about at the moment is that it was a victory.

As always, there was plenty of room for improvement in their performance as they had long periods when they looked laboured, clunky and reactive. But for an equal amount of time they played well enough.

They certainly showed patience and resilience to get themselves into the game after being spectators for the first 40 minutes. They better protected possession, used it more wisely and increased their urgency and accuracy around the tackled ball - all of which gave them more flow and potency and enabled they to slowly crank the handle and get on top of a Jaguares team that weren't keen on letting things go easily.

Obviously it would be nice if the clock could be wound back and the Blues returned to being Super Rugby's great adventurers and entertainers - slicing and dicing new boys and making Auckland a miserable place to visit. But the reality for this current team is that they have to graft and grind, dig deep and throw everything they have to squeeze past teams such as the Jaguares.

The important thing - serving as evidence they are learning and improving - is they did squeeze past the Jaguares. A year ago, the Blues wouldn't have got there. In fact, even in their last game against the Reds, they didn't get there.

Leading the way once again was Charlie Faumuina, whose refusal to go down at the first tackle was enormous. He fought for yards that became crucial, as did Patrick Tuipulotu whose presence around the fringes was considerable.

Steven Luatua had another strong game. His workrate is noticeably higher than it has been in previous seasons and, while he was a bit erratic and never quite managed to break free the way everyone would have liked, Rene Ranger made some telling micro contributions.

As did Akira Ioane, whose willingness and hunger to get his hands on the ball sapped the energy of his opponents and probably drove home to them mentally that they weren't going to be able to win.

What the victory provided for the Blues, other than the much-needed competition points, was a launch-pad for the rest of the season. It will have given them reassurance that, if they stick to their plan, trust it and stay composed, they can stay in any contest.

In other words, it will have given them an element of confidence that they don't have to fall apart if things don't initially go their way.

What needs to come next is an improvement in the accuracy and the duration of that accuracy. For the first half hour, they were too loose with the ball. They coughed up too much in contact. Basic ball protection didn't happen. It no doubt had much to do with the players having a mindset that they want to offload out of the tackle, but they also made too many poor decisions about what to do with it.

Against better sides, they won't be able to fight their way back to victory if they play for only 50 minutes.

On what the Blues have produced so far this season, it's fair to say they aren't as well structured, incisive or direct as the other four New Zealand teams, but they are at least more of a unit than they were last year.

Blues 24 (S. Luatua, I. West tries; I. West cons, 4 pens)
Jaguares 16
(G. Bertranou try; S. Iglesias 3 pens; N. Sanchez cons)

- NZ Herald

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