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

Rugby: Tana Umaga seeks answers to Blues' pack woes

The continued excellence of Blues halfback Augustine Pulu was one consolation for Tana Umaga after his team's defeat to the Crusaders. / Photo: Photosport
The continued excellence of Blues halfback Augustine Pulu was one consolation for Tana Umaga after his team's defeat to the Crusaders. / Photo: Photosport

After their capitulation against the Crusaders, the Blues know what they will get from the Bulls in their next match - a series of driving mauls which will seriously test the resolve of Tana Umaga's pack after they showed a worrying vulnerability there in Christchurch.

The Crusaders forwards simply ran over the top of the Blues at AMI Stadium in setting up their team's 33-24 victory after trailing 24-5 just after halftime.

It was another epic comeback from a team making a habit of them, and the Blues had no answer to the home side's lineout drives.

The Bulls, a team who pride themselves on mauling any team into submission, would have been delighted as they prepare to face a team on a three-match losing streak at North Harbour Stadium.

"It's tough," Blues coach Umaga said. "We had a soul-searching week [after Highlanders defeat]. We didn't give a good account of ourselves and we talked about that a lot.

We wanted to put in a performance, that, one, represented who we are and what we believe in, and, two . . . show ourselves and our families that we are working hard.

"We did it for 50 or 60 minutes but again, as the Crusaders have shown throughout all their games . . . We talked about it, how they would come back and they showed that. It's not as if we didn't know.

"We weren't able to deal with that rolling maul. Those good sides, if they see an area of potential they just keep repeating it. It's a big work-on for us.

"We've got a South African side coming up next and we know what they'll be doing to us. We need to be very good at being able to counter it."

The shame of it is that the Blues were superb in the first half. Lock Patrick Tuipulotu was charging into everything and halfback Augustine Pulu was again one of the best players on the field. Midfielders George Moala and Rieko Ioane and wing Matt Duffie were at their free-running best - in other words, the opposite to their performances during their team's lacklustre defeat by the Highlanders a week earlier at Eden Park.

But when the almost inevitable Crusaders comeback began, the Blues had no answer and were probably lucky to not lose a player to the sin bin such was their constant offending when the home side laid siege to their line.

"We went away from what was working for us," Umaga said. "That gave them confidence and made us make errors and they got into parts of the field that we didn't want them to be in."

A day after the loss, assistant coach Steve Jackson, the man who will be entrusted by Umaga to come up with a strategy to counter the Bulls' driving maul, revealed to Radio Sport's Mark Watson that the Blues were constricted by attempting to follow a set structure against the Highlanders.

Against the Crusaders they were told to revert to their instincts, a strategy which should have paid dividends.

"We need to play and that's what this team is good at," Jackson said. "When you look at our backline, if we can give them front-foot ball, they can cut teams apart. There was a free licence to go out there and express themselves."

- NZ Herald

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