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

Rugby: How Bulls win has eased pressure on Blues and Umaga

Blues wing Matt Duffie on his way to scoring his first try against the Bulls at QBE Stadium. Photo / Photosport
Blues wing Matt Duffie on his way to scoring his first try against the Bulls at QBE Stadium. Photo / Photosport

It's too early to talk about corners being turned at the Blues, but after three defeats in a row, and a horror of a first half against the Bulls at North Harbour, their five-try burst for what turned out to be a convincing win has released some of the pressure building on the team and their coach Tana Umaga.

Their start at QBE Stadium featured an Augustine Pulu try after only three minutes, but the vastly improved Bulls' defence tightened the screws, and that was evidenced by an alarming number of errors from many of the Blues, including senior players who are capable of much better.

Some of that might be down to the increased scrutiny following a run of defeats against the Chiefs, Highlanders and Crusaders which made a victory against the South Africans a non-negotiable.

Afterwards, wing Matt Duffie, who scored the first two tries of the second half to help set the Blues on track for their 38-14 win, talked about the pressure building throughout the past three weeks, and former Blues and All Blacks loose forward Troy Flavell told Sky TV on the eve of the match about the "heat" that will be coming on to Umaga in his second season with the franchise.

All of their supporters would have demanded improvements after their recent disappointments and they will hope that what they saw in the second 40 minutes against the Bulls will be shown from start to finish against the Force at Eden Park next Saturday.

"The last three weeks have been tough on the group," Duffie said afterwards. "We've been getting pressure left, right and centre. It's been hard to take that on board and try to perform on the weekend and I think it's a credit to some of the guys in the team - they've really stood up and faced that adversity.

"Going into halftime [against the Bulls] it was frustrating because we know we're better than that... I guess the second half was a snippet of how we can play but it's about being ruthless enough to do it for 80 minutes and ruthless enough not to throw that offload."

The offload created Pulu's try, and fullback Michael Collins deserves credit for that and for the one which set up Duffie's first, but it also got the Blues in trouble in the first half. But, to their credit, the Blues persisted and in the end they got results.

"We talked about how they would obviously tire in the second half and if we just kept at them we'd get them," coach Umaga said. "We did stick to our game and we tried to play a bit, and it just started opening up. The positive thing for us is that we started to talk a bit more and take the opportunities."

The Blues were in charge at 19-7 when flanker Jimmy Tupou was sinbinned by referee Nic Berry for a high tackle in the 58th minute, but with George Moala providing his ample power to the side of the scrum, the Blues just kept going, Ihaia West scoring while Tupou was off and Matt Moulds and Melani Nanai scoring two more when he returned.

That ability to keep attacking with 14 men showed to Umaga the "resilience and fortitude we're trying to build", and in wing Duffie they have an attacker who is flourishing.
"His overall game has been awesome, the last two weeks especially," Umaga said.

"He's just coming out of his shell and expressing himself. We all know he's pretty good under the high ball and pretty quick, but I put a bit of a quip in a couple of weeks ago that he's our number one ball carrier getting over the gain line.

"He showed that again - it's not always about being the most powerful, it's about good feet, he ... runs hard when he needs to and I think that's building confidence in him."

Duffie said: "It's pleasing. I was battling away this time last year and got my crack at the end of the year.

"Every game I'm stressing about putting in a good performance because I want to hold on to this right-wing spot for dear life."

- NZ Herald

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