BLUES 23 SHARKS 18

The Blues have spent long enough losing ugly not to be elated by their new found of skill winning ugly.

They didn't play much in the way of memorable rugby to get over the Sharks, but they did show a depth of character and resilience for the second week in succession. They did also show some ability to adapt, change their thinking and claw their way to a victory that was slipping away from them early in the second half.

These are not small things. The Blues didn't appear to learn a single thing last year - as bad on the last day of the season as they were on the first. This team is different. They are still error prone, still a bit stiff and erratic but they do at least get better within games.

They also have some individual class, none more exciting than Rieko Ioane, whose solo wonder try was the moment the game turned. He had no business scoring from where he did, but he was strong, fast, elusive and and determined and that allowed him to drift, step and fend his way through five defenders.

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As it happened: Blues v Sharks

Not that the Blues should be ecstatic about where they are at how they played. The results may be coming, but the performances aren't.

This skill wave that is sweeping the New Zealand teams, doesn't appear to have made it as far as Auckland. Maybe it will come - and it needs to. The Blues don't have their basic skills where they need them. Their pass and catch wasn't slick and that was prohibitive to them putting the Sharks under genuine pressure for sustained periods. The Blues couldn't play their runners into holes, or play with enough flow to force the Sharks into making poor defensive judgements and it was a long, hard , frustrating battle getting their game to function.

The Blues were also guilty of kicking too much and worse, kicking poorly. There was too much bang it long and hope - a bad enough choice at the best of times, cripplingly bad idea when Willie le Roux is at fullback.

The Springbok playmaker could hardly believe his luck - he just had to sit deep and wait and sure enough, the ball would be booted down his throat and he could take his time to chose his response. And he chose them well.

He punished the Blues with his boot, turning them and forcing them to play out of deep corners. He also ran well, pulling the defence out of shape, creating holes and then releasing teammates into them. The best example of that was just after halftime when he smoked across the turf and then popped the perfect pass to the the flying Paul Jordaan who came back on the angle to score.

It seemed obvious that it would be a wise idea for the Blues to hold onto the ball a little more, but no, the penny didn't drop until Jordaan had put the Sharks in front.

But at least it dropped and maybe the next time the Blues play a South African team they will be less determined to give up hard-earned possession.

That's how it is against the bigger South African teams - a long, hard slog of chipping away until eventually the holes open up as legs begin to weary.

It's a tough skill to learn, but invaluable.


Blues 23 (G. Moala, R. Ioane tries; I. West cons, 3 pens)
Sharks 18 (B. Mtawarira, P.Jordaan tries; J. Pietersen 2 pens, con)