Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

Rugby: Doubters spurred on Blues to best game of season

Brodie Retallick of the Chiefs scores the winning try. Photo / Getty
Brodie Retallick of the Chiefs scores the winning try. Photo / Getty

Written off by some in the media and, more surprisingly, by some friends and family, the Blues were fired up to prove a point against the Chiefs and the result was one of the best performances of their season.

The final score in Hamilton on Friday was 29-23, a defeat for the Blues which sees them rooted to the bottom of the New Zealand conference and probably sinks their playoff ambitions, but their overall play and skill level rivalled that of their round one victory over the Highlanders.

They were accurate in the first half, and, while they went to the break 10-6 down, two stunning converted tries in five minutes from Melani Nanai and Rieko Ioane gave them a sniff of victory until the inevitable comeback from the Chiefs which culminated in a try to returning All Black lock Brodie Retallick.

An Ihaia West penalty on fulltime gave them a bonus point when they probably deserved more, and skipper James Parsons revealed yesterday that being written off before the match at Waikato Stadium spurred them on.

"We weren't given a chance and we let that fuel us all week," Parsons said. "There were zero expectations, there was talk of being flogged by 50."

Asked if the talk was in the media or from closer to home, Parsons said: "There was a bit of chat. Most of it comes out of the media, but it's also family and friends, believe it or not. They watch rugby as well and they see how good the Chiefs are going and there was a lot of that."

The Blues set piece was strong, particularly the scrum in which prop Charlie Faumuina excelled in the first half before going off at halftime with a knee knock. But more obvious was the ambitious mindset to attempt to run the Chiefs around and they did that superbly with a passing game not seen thus far before brilliance by Nanai and Ioane gave them the lead.

"We knew they were going to come back, we know they score a lot of points in the last 20, but we didn't withstand it and in the end, it cost us," Parsons said. "We were gutted, we felt we prepared well and we had given ourselves an opportunity but we didn't grab it, which was unfortunate."

The five-tries-to-two bonus-point win allowed the Chiefs to build their lead at the top of the table, with the Highlanders, Crusaders and Hurricanes all still in the hunt.

With their next two matches at Eden Park - the Sharks on Saturday and the Rebels a week later - the Blues have a chance to repeat their good performance on home soil before a three-match trip to South Africa and Perth. Parsons said it was crucial the improvements in preparation which manifested themselves against the Chiefs were maintained.

"We've made some good shifts building into the Reds week and we just got better and better each week. It's that consistent preparation which is something we're driving. If we get consistent preparation, we'll get consistent performances. The younger guys are really understanding the value of that."

Midfielder Piers Francis is likely to be available for the Sharks game despite being stretchered off with a neck injury against the Chiefs. Fullback Lolagi Visinia, a late scratching with a neck problem of his own, is also likely to be back. Flanker Tanerau Latimer, yet to play for the Blues due to a calf problem picked up in Japan, is likely to play club rugby this weekend.

- NZ Herald

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