Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

Rugby: Blues coach Tana Umaga quietly confident

Tana Umaga is quietly confident his team can yet make a big impact this season. Photo / Getty Images
Tana Umaga is quietly confident his team can yet make a big impact this season. Photo / Getty Images

The Super Rugby points table has a different complexion following some significant results over the weekend, including a bonus point away win for the Blues which has coach Tana Umaga quietly confident his team can yet make a big impact this season.

The Highlanders' 26-13 victory over the Chiefs in Hamilton on Saturday, combined with the Crusaders' 38-5 romp over the Reds in Christchurch the night before, has dropped Dave Rennie's men from the top of the standings to fifth.

Significantly, the Crusaders, on top by virtue of their better points differential, have a game in hand over the Chiefs, who have a bye this weekend.

It makes this Friday's match between the Highlanders and Crusaders in Dunedin all the more noteworthy. With the Crusaders having to play all of the other New Zealand teams before the end of the round-robin, the table is not settled.

The Hurricanes' shock 32-15 beating at the hands of the Sharks in Durban shows this competition still has the capacity to surprise, and, while the Blues' 34-18 victory over the Kings in Port Elizabeth was not unforeseen, it has helped to close the gap on their New Zealand rivals. The Blues are now 11th, only six competition points from the seventh-placed Hurricanes, but have only two more derby matches remaining in the round-robin, against the Crusaders and Hurricanes.

They still have a difficult task to force their way into the top eight and therefore a playoff spot, but it's not out of the question.

How it stands:
- The Blues (25 points) sit three points behind the eighth placed Bulls (28 points) who hold the final playoff spot.
- They face South African 2 conference leaders the Lions in Johannesburg next weekend before playing the two-win Force in Perth.
- The Blues sit in last in the New Zealand Conference, six points behind the Hurricanes who they are still to play.
- Four New Zealand teams are likely to make the playoffs.

"Right from the outset, we always knew the New Zealand conference was going to be tough ... and we've always been looked at as the ones that were going to miss out by a long way but, as we've shown, we hang in there, whether it's by a finger or a whole hand,"

Umaga said after his team broke a two-year drought of away victories.

"That's through our guts and determination to do that, and so we have put ourselves in the right places, and we'll just keep doing what we're doing to get ourselves back up the ladder. We enjoy that challenge."

Victories over the Lions in Johannesburg next weekend and the Force in Perth on the way home to Auckland will help their chances significantly.

But in analysing the victory over the Kings at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, Umaga was rightly careful not to get ahead of himself.

He knows flaws remain within his team, who struggled to subdue a game but limited opposition. One of those flaws is a relative lack of depth compared with the other Kiwi teams.

"We've got to keep trying to put out the best side. Other sides have that depth and confidence to change but we don't have that luxury.

"We're still a newish side so it's about becoming comfortable and confident in the systems we're putting in place and we're still getting there," said Umaga.

"We'd like to get three wins if we can but we're a side that can't look too far ahead. Our destiny is in our own hands and we control that."

In scoring two tries from two attacking lineouts in four minutes, right wing Melani Nanai took his opportunities well in his first match since Rieko Ioane's departure to the national sevens squad.

But while loose forwards Jerome Kaino and Steven Luatua played well, as did prop Charlie Faumuina and halfback Billy Guyton when they came on in the second half, too many attacking chances went to waste.

The Kings missed 19 tackles in the first half, but were still in the match at 18-22 down with 20 minutes to go.

The Blues have broken their away day hoodoo but have yet to find their ruthless streak.

- NZ Herald

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