Patrick McKendry is a rugby and boxing writer for the Herald.

Rugby: Killer instinct marks Blues as different beast

Akira Ioane of the Blues attempts a fend. Photo / Getty
Akira Ioane of the Blues attempts a fend. Photo / Getty

Put aside for a moment, if you can, the Blues' brilliance on attack against the Rebels as a sign of good things to come this season.

The seven-tries-to-two 56-18 victory, in which Rieko Ioane scored a hat-trick that marked him once again as a player with a huge future, featured the free-wheeling Blues at their best.

But just as significant was their determination to rip the Rebels and their inexperienced No10 Jackson Garden-Bachop to shreds from start to finish, and it's that quality which will be crucial during their next assignment against the Chiefs in Hamilton next Friday.

There were nerves at the start, as Tana Umaga later admitted, but there was composure and patience. There was also a killer instinct, and discipline in terms of knowing when to throw an offload, and that's not something this team has always been associated with.

Umaga's men took a 10-point lead to the break but there was no easing off in the second half.

In fact, they outscored the home side 31-3 after halftime, and if anything their defence contained a harder edge.

Ioane, still only 19 years old, can clearly hit as hard as any midfielder, and the same applies to halfback Augustine Pulu, who also scored a brilliant individual try.

The intent led them to over-commit at times in terms of offending at the breakdown and straying offside. There was a moment in the second half, with the score 53-18, when referee Angus Gardner warned on-field captain Steven Luatua about the need to play in a "positive" manner. "I know you're ahead on the scoreboard, but you need to still be positive, all right?" Gardner, who had an excellent game, said. "Can you have a word to the boys, please? Just too keen, just too keen."

Being over-keen isn't something many rugby players have been accused of by match officials at this level, but Luatua, who replaced lock Jimmy Tupou as captain, managed to keep a straight face because the message behind the order was clear and so was the intent of Luatua's team: the Blues, so criticised in the past for being flaky, weren't prepared to give the opposition anything, and that has to be encouraging to their supporters.

Umaga's team enjoyed two good performances in pre-season against the Hurricanes and Chiefs and he said afterwards that their hard work, plus a bit of composure were the keys to their efforts.

His attitude when describing his team in public last year was cautiously optimistic if a little fatalistic. There is a desire to under-sell and over-deliver. They travelled to Melbourne with quiet confidence, a feeling that they had the ability to put in a special performance despite missing Jerome Kaino, Patrick Tuipulotu and Sonny Bill Williams, and they would have returned with that reinforced. It's early days, of course, but it's not difficult to foresee a few more of those performances from the Blues this season.

- NZ Herald

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