Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Rugby: Blues hold on to edge Rebels

Blues 36 Rebels 30
Lolagi Visinia of the Blues reaches out to score a try against the Rebels. Photo / Getty
Lolagi Visinia of the Blues reaches out to score a try against the Rebels. Photo / Getty

That the Blues claimed victory against the Rebels today isn't a surprise but the way they did it was.

They arrived prepared to graft and grind, to front a good side physically and slug it out for 80 minutes. But it only became that sort of game in the last 15 minutes when a few loose moments cost the Blues a big lead and left them having to be more careful than they would have liked.

It felt wrong that the Rebels were still in it that late. They'd barely played any rugby and had ridden their luck and the wayward kicking of Ihaia West to be where they were. Their lineout driving game had been a massive factor, too, but that's all they had and it shouldn't have been enough to have made things as close as they ended up being.

"It's always good to get the win," said Blues coach Tana Umaga. "It is probably a hang-up of what has been symptomatic of our game. We give away too many penalties inside our quarter, our half. We make errors inside our half and can't get out and then it makes it easier for them. Our discipline is something we have worked hard yet we are not getting any reward.

"When we got down inside their half, it was a different story. Our attack really turned it on."

As it happened: Blues v Rebels

Up until that last quarter, there hadn't been any need for the Blues to do much, if any, grafting or grinding or worry too much about their ill-discipline and unforced error count.
They just had to keep the ball, run straight and be patient. That was enough to flummox the Rebels, enough to make it one of those rare evenings when the Blues could, with some of the angst and pressure lifted early, play without inhibition.

They found some flow and rhythm until they opted to make a raft of changes. Umaga felt some of his men were tired, while there was also a need to get others on the field purely to give them a run.

The changes left the Blues out of sorts and it was as they tried to reorganise that the Rebels were able to claw their way back in. It could be argued they tried to introduce too many players too soon, as Umaga offered, but the Blues need to be able to rely on their bench to make a seamless entry and maintain standards.

Still, the fact they had to fight from as far back as they did told a story in itself.
It's a fairly preposterous state of affairs when the lowest ranked New Zealand team are able to deal to the top Australian side - look them in the eye and fear nothing.

What should really concern Sanzaar, and more specifically the Australian Rugby Union, is the ease with which the Blues were able to conjure tries. They played well enough, were moderately slick and creative, but nothing special - nothing that made everyone gasp and proclaim their rugby genius. And yet the tries kept coming.

Simple stuff brought huge gains for the Blues and even they might have been surprised how easily they were able to breach the Rebels.

They must have wondered why they were able to score a couple of times directly off first-phase possession - just pass, catch, run straight and over in the corner.

They must have felt that every time they entered the Rebels' 22 they were going to come away with points, largely because that's what happened. If West had kicked his goals and the coaches had resisted the urge to make so many replacements as early as they did, the Blues could have cruised to 50 and jumped on the plane to South Africa this morning with genuine confidence about how things might go in the Republic.

Blues 36 (J. Parsons, J. Kaino, C. Faumuina. I. West, T. Li, L. Visinia tries; I. West 2 cons; P. Francis cons)
Rebels 30 (R. Hodge, J. Reid, C. Faingaa, S. Naivalu tries; J. Debreczeni 2 cons, 2 pens).
Halftime: 24-18.

- NZ Herald

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