Rugby: Too late, Lam's men finally find the plot

By Paul Lewis

Charles Piutau splits weak Brumbies defence. Photo / Getty Images
Charles Piutau splits weak Brumbies defence. Photo / Getty Images

Brumbies 16
Blues 30

Pat Lam had his job interview on Friday - but nothing he could have said would have spoken louder than his team's upset victory over the Australian conference leaders last night.

It's to be hoped that Lam, forced to interview for his own job after the Blues' horror season, said to his masters: "Just watch what the boys will do on Saturday."

If so, they would have seen several elements of the Blues' notoriously awful season show what might have been. Piri Weepu, so derided for his unprofessional porkiness, ran the game well from the base of the Blues' scrum, rucks and mauls and gave the Brumbies defence something to think about close to those same facets of the game.

Even better, Weepu support and a pop pass plus a swift decision over the direction of the attack from the breakdown played a key role in a 75m try to makeshift winger Hadleigh Parkes before Weepu's almost unerring goalkicking delivered maximum points.

Ma'a Nonu produced some telling passing, vital in Daniel Braid's expansive first-half try; centre Francis Saili, winger Sherwin Stowers and fullback Charles Piutau ran like scalded cats and lock Liaki Moli, perhaps a little overawed at the beginning of the season, showed that he has learned fast - working hard with loose forward Steven Luatua in the ball-carrying and wrestle-for-possession phases.

So well did the Blues burst out of the blocks that they raced away to a 14-0 lead over the bemused Brumbies, whose defence was about as solid as a lime jelly. However, it wouldn't be the Blues, 2012, if they didn't once again demonstrate their puzzling ability to drift completely out of a game.

Some silly penalties began to arrive and Parkes made an absolute mess of a high kick, leading directly to a flashing try by Brumbies winger Henry Speight, dancing past some wispy tackles, and suddenly the 14-0 lead had become 14-13.

To their credit, the Blues put together a searing raid - the ball travelling through many hands with Piutau, Weepu, Nonu and Saili prominent - to put Parkes over in the corner for a match-turning 21-13 lead at the break.

The Brumbies looked nothing like conference leaders - and this defeat gave the Reds a sniff of winning the conference if they could produce a bonus point against the Waratahs late last night. Their tackling was sieve-like, their limp kicking game played to the Blues' strengths and they had few ideas on attack. One of their goalkickers, Jesse Mogg, also missed consistently when the Blues were in generous penalty-giving mood, and first five-eighths Zac Holmes missed a chance when the Brumbies were battling back at 27-16.

The rain which pelted down with about 20 minutes to go looked as if it would be better for the Brumbies than the Blues; the sharp running play which was undoing the Australians was largely negated. The Brumbies looked much better when they played it tight in the rain - rolling mauls and pick-and-drives but, for once, the Blues defence held fast.

Then a sight to warm Blues' fans - a forward assault on the Brumbies' line, running down the clock; the Canberra side powerless to prevent the forward surges which ended in the penalty to Michael Hobbs that wrapped matters up.

It wasn't perfect - it was the Blues, after all - but it was a big improvement over most of the rest of the season. Still, you get the feeling that those in charge of Lam's destiny may still give more weight to the 13 points conceded in that first-half hiccup, rather than the 14 points they scored so attractively.

Maybe it's time to point out that Lam's men beat those coached by a man with impeccable credentials - 2007 Rugby World Cup winner Jake White. If it is to be Lam's last stand, at least it was a good 'un.

Brumbies 16 (H. Speight tries; Z. Holmes con, 2 pens; J. Mogg pen), Blues 30 (L. Moli, D. Braid, H. Parkes tries; P. Weepu 3 cons, 2 pens; M. Hobbs pen). Halftime: 13-21.

- Herald on Sunday

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