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

Super rugby: Blues plan to expose Hurricanes' fast defence

First-five says there are ways around the champions as Blues aim to emulate the problems the Waratahs caused.
Piers Francis is confident  the Blues can expose the Hurricanes defence. Photo / Photosport
Piers Francis is confident the Blues can expose the Hurricanes defence. Photo / Photosport

The Blues will have the attacking genius of Beauden Barrett to contend with at Eden Park tonight, yet feel they have the game plan to cope with the All Blacks No 10 and his in-form backline.

They also have a strategy to combat the Hurricanes defence, which is notoriously quick off the mark in terms of line speed and yet was exposed by the Waratahs in the second half of their match in Wellington last weekend.

In the end, the Waratahs fightback fell short, yet it could have been different had they been awarded a penalty try for Barrett's intentional knock-on in the dying moments, for which he received a second yellow card and a meeting with the judiciary. Despite out-scoring the Hurricanes three tries to one in the second half, they still lost 38-28 and didn't earn a competition point.

Cleared of any further sanction, Barrett will wear the No10 jersey for the visitors, but his opposite Piers Francis was this week confident the Blues could expose the Hurricanes in the same manner as the Waratahs.

"He is a deadly player, as you saw in the first half of that Waratahs game," Francis told the Herald. "If you give him time and space ... he's very quick, shall we say. It's about shutting down his space and not giving him opportunities but they have several threats across their backline.

"They have a pretty decent defensive structure - it's quite obvious what they're trying to do - but there are ways around that. We had a match against them in the pre-season ... we'll take lessons from that. We know they're tracking well and we're in a place where we need to dig deep and get results.

"With the kind of defence they use, there are ways around it, you can penetrate it, and when you do, you're in a good spot because they're up pretty hard.

"We're back at home, which is positive ... we're excited about it. It's the last game before the bye, so we're going to empty the tank."

The Blues' defeat to the Highlanders in Dunedin last weekend after they had a good lead at halftime has the potential to haunt them. It allowed the Highlanders to overtake them for eighth place while sending Tana Umaga's men to 10th and came after one of their season's most promising starts, along with their first half against the Crusaders. The problem for them is they lost that match against the Crusaders as well.

"We didn't hold on to the ball long enough," Francis said. "We believe if we can hold on to it for multiple phases, we can combat any team, and I think we've shown that in patches.

"I still think last week we created enough opportunities in that second half. And to come away without a point in that second half was tough because any points then would really have put us in a good position."

One positive was the return of Sonny Bill Williams, extra medical tape and all - his break and offload which should have led to a try was a reminder of his talents after a long spell on the sidelines.

"I'm sure he'll be disappointed with a couple of things but that's to be expected," Francis said of a couple of Williams' errors. "Any player, even the likes of Sonny Bill, is going to have rust. We felt collectively we did enough and he created a couple of opportunities that we should have finished off."

- NZ Herald

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