Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

Patrick McKendry: Blues coach Umaga must ring changes

Blues coach needs to get tough and find alternative troops who have stomach for battle and are willing to show fight.
Blues coach Tana Umaga must address the lack of fight from his troops at Ellis Park. Picture / Anthony Au-Yeung, Photosport
Blues coach Tana Umaga must address the lack of fight from his troops at Ellis Park. Picture / Anthony Au-Yeung, Photosport

As Tana Umaga surveys the wreckage of the Blues' performance against the Lions in Johannesburg, one of the most disappointing things is the lack of fight in his team.

The Lions began well - their kick-off went into touch, they stole the Blues' lineout, broke several tackles and scored a try in the space of the first minute - but, as the rain poured down on Ellis Park, the Blues simply didn't appear to have an appetite to rise to the same level of intent as their opponents.

Two more tries followed, and at a tick over 10 minutes and the Lions 19-0 up, that was that.

Rarely have the Blues folded as quickly as they did on Sunday. Rarely, indeed, has one Super Rugby team appeared to want to win a game more than the opposition. The 43-5 final scoreline may have even flattered the Blues.

High kicks going to ground can be excused given the conditions - although the Lions didn't suffer from the same fumbles - but a lack of stomach can't.

The statistics bear it out: 20 missed tackles compared with eight from the Lions; eight defenders beaten, compared with 20 by the Lions.

Lions blindside flanker Jaco Kriel beat six defenders by himself; the Blues' starting loose forward trio of Jerome Kaino, Steven Luatua and Tanerau Latimer didn't beat any.

It was probably a good thing the Blues' bus out of the ground afterwards was delayed because it gave coach Umaga more time to compose himself before speaking to the New Zealand media on the phone.

He said the team were "distraught", but that there might be casualties ahead of the next game against the Force in Perth. Well, there have to be consequences. Just as Hurricanes Chris Boyd was right to drop five senior players after they missed a curfew by only minutes in South Africa, so must Umaga act.

Players need boundaries no matter their age, so Umaga must make a statement with his team selection. The problem for him of course is a lack of depth which makes wholesale changes impossible.

Former Melbourne Storm NRL wing Matt Duffie, an off-season signing, has started only one match - the defeat to the Crusaders in round two. Maybe it's time to give him a crack. Flanker Kara Pryor looked good when he came on at Ellis Park - he might deserve a go too, ditto inside back Matt McGahan.

The defeat all but ended the Blues' slim chances of a playoff place.

Now might be a good idea for Umaga to have a look at a few alternatives; after all, they can't do much worse than the current crop.Crusaders halfback Andy Ellis will quit Super Rugby at the end of the season.

Ellis, who will play his 150th match for the Crusaders against the Waratahs in Christchurch on Friday, is one of the fiercest competitors to wear the red and black, and he shed a tear in front of the media when explaining the reasons behind his decision.

Ellis, a thoughtful and engaging character, and part of the 2011 World Cup-winning All Blacks side, will be missed.

Debate on this article is now closed.

- NZ Herald

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Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

Rugby writer Patrick McKendry began his journalism career 20 years ago and has worked in newspapers in New Zealand and the United Kingdom. He worked in a communications role on his return here before joining APN before the 2011 World Cup.

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