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

Rugby: Why Blues must cash in against Force

Replacement first-five Ihaia West gestures to crowd after scoring one of his team's five tries in the second half against the Bulls. Photo / Photosport
Replacement first-five Ihaia West gestures to crowd after scoring one of his team's five tries in the second half against the Bulls. Photo / Photosport

The Blues, having snapped their losing streak by over-running the Bulls, must continue their momentum with a victory over the Force on Saturday, preferably with a bonus point, because far bigger challenges are looming.

Their in-form right wing Matt Duffie spoke about the requirement of a ruthless attitude after scoring two of his team's five second-half tries at North Harbour's QBE Stadium last weekend, and, following that to its logical conclusion, the Blues must cash in at Eden Park against a team with an uncertain future and one of the weakest attacks in the competition.

The Force have won only once this season - against conference rivals the Reds - and have the worst statistics in the competition in terms of metres run, breaks made and defenders beaten.

Their scrum showed some resistance against the Crusaders in their 45-17 loss in Christchurch last weekend, although the legality of what their front row was doing during the seemingly endless resets is debatable.

And they are also struggling to hold on to the ball - their average time in possession of 13mins 37secs is the worst in Super rugby and well behind the Hurricanes' best of 17:40.

The bonus point win over the Bulls has kept the Blues in touch at ninth place (11 competition points), just out of the playoffs zone, but the eighth-placed Hurricanes have a game in hand and already have a healthy buffer (15 competition points).

And, with an away match against the Highlanders coming after the Force, plus a match back at Eden Park against the Hurricanes, a bye and a trip to Canberra to play the Brumbies, their next assignment is clearly a must-win match.

Under coach Tana Umaga, the Blues have a good record against most of the so-called lesser teams - in other words, those not from New Zealand. Last year, in Umaga's first at the franchise, the Blues should have beaten the Reds in Brisbane, but contrived to draw it 25-all, but (after beating the Highlanders in round one) they beat the Jaguares, Sharks, Rebels, Kings (away), Force (away), Brumbies and Waratahs; the latter two matches at Eden Park and ensuring the side finished the season in a reasonably positive manner.

At this still reasonably early stage, Umaga's men are probably relying on the Jaguares or Sharks to slip in order to progress into a playoff position, and they will come under pressure from a Highlanders team below them on the table (11th, with nine competition points) who secured a morale-boosting win against the Brumbies in Canberra.

Should the Blues put in a good performance in beating the Force, their prospects, with Sonny Bill Williams' return expected in mid-April, will look a little brighter, although this team more than most should be wary of taking anything for granted. Their attitude is key and it must be ruthless.

What's next for Blues:
Saturday: v Force at Eden Park
April 8: v Highlanders in Dunedin
April 15: v Hurricanes at Eden Park
bye
April 30: v Brumbies in Canberra

- NZ Herald

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