Patrick McKendry is a rugby and boxing writer for the Herald.

Umaga: Poor discipline could have cost Blues

Gonzalo Bertranou (L) of the Jaguares and Billy Guyton (R) of the Auckland Blues clash during the Super Rugby match. Photo / Getty Images.
Gonzalo Bertranou (L) of the Jaguares and Billy Guyton (R) of the Auckland Blues clash during the Super Rugby match. Photo / Getty Images.

Conceding six consecutive first-half penalties to the Jaguares, which included a yellow card to wing Tevita Li, has concerned Blues coach Tana Umaga, who says his team didn't react quickly enough to the rulings of Mike Fraser last night.

The Blues enjoyed their second victory of the season when beating the Argentine side 24-16 at North Harbour Stadium, but a more clinical team would have punished the home side's ill discipline and that is something Umaga hopes his team quickly realise.

"We've shown we have a lot of heart in our group and they know how to hang in there in games but it would be good if we didn't have to go through the rigmarole of giving away penalties and getting stuck in our corner for so long," he said.

"We've got to adapt to the referee. He did say he'll be strong at the start and he was.

That's a learning curve for our guys, understanding that sometimes it looks like we can hang in there and try to steal the ball back, just let it go and trust our systems.

"We got our first touch of the ball I think in the 18th minute when we got a penalty. It's a long time defending and it takes a lot of fuel out of them."

The positives are, firstly, the Blues won, and secondly they didn't break despite the huge possession the advantage the Jaguares enjoyed in the first half an hour of the match. At one stage they were enjoying nearly 80 per cent of the ball. They should have scored through Matias Moroni, only for the centre to drop the ball on the Blues' line, but otherwise Umaga's men defended pretty well.

"In past games we probably would have given away a lot more points than we did," Umaga said. "Our defence is something we have been working hard on. We knew the Argentine side would come to play. They chanced their arm and don't hold back and I thought we handled that well."

Last weekend's bye gave the Blues an opportunity for some soul-searching after a start to the season which had them winning their first match against the Highlanders, losing their next two to the Crusaders and Hurricanes, and drawing with the Reds. The upshot was that the team's leaders were determined to step up in the injured absence of skipper Jerome Kaino.

After a disjointed start, they did that last night, with men such as Steven Luatua, Charlie Faumuina, Rene Ranger and Patrick Tuipulotu putting in a lot of work. Centre Ranger, in particular, looked determined to prove a point that he deserves a consistent starting spot at centre, and Umaga revealed he did that.

"He wants to play 13, that's his preference. Obviously we have to do what's best for us as a group but we've also got to mindful of the player too, if he wants to play there. We've got a lot of wingers so at this stage he's done very well at 13 and he's done enough to probably stay there. We've just got to keep putting out those guys who are playing well."

Second-five Piers Francis showed some good touches in his first Super Rugby match before going off injured, with prop Nic Mayhew, in his first start at this level, limping off after a dangerous looking tackle from lock Tomas Lavanini, who appeared to lead to with his head at Mayhew's right knee.

Mayhew was walking on it afterwards but could face a long stretch out of the game.
Umaga said: "Safety's a big issue, diving at people's legs - if it's technically within the law then obviously that's fine, but if it's not then it needs to be looked at. Everyone saw what was happening out there and we'll see what comes of it."

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