Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Rugby: Self-belief will seal Blues win

The new-look Blues, their natural talent tempered by patience and control, could feature in the play-offs, writes Gregor Paul.

Photo / Getty Images
Photo / Getty Images

The tangible return for the Blues in Brisbane was one competition point. The intangible may be the belief they need to dig in at the top end of the table and be a surprise play-off package.

The Blues had the best team in the competition on the ropes for 80 minutes. They outplayed them in every department - particularly the breakdown where they delivered probably the best performance of any team in the competition this season, but didn't win.

The cynics will say same old Blues - all razzle-dazzle; all style and no substance. The Blues may feel a little like that themselves but they certainly didn't look like the same old Blues. They certainly shouldn't be downhearted - they forced the Reds into making 145 tackles. They forced the Reds into full panic mode and for a young side, more than half of whom have barely, or never, played at this level, that was a massive achievement.

To make it worthwhile, though; for their endeavour to have lasting value, the Blues need to come home with belief. They need to understand now that they are good enough to beat the best teams.

As coach John Kirwan said: "We talked about a test match all week and this is one of the hardest places to come and win so I'm really incredibly proud of how the guys played. We really matured tonight and I think it showed we can compete against anyone and that's really important for this young side to understand."

With the Stormers next on Friday night, the Blues could make the breakthrough if they can replicate the intensity, particularly at the breakdown, and add composure and patience to their attacking game. Their ball retention was phenomenal at times, yet while they frequently held the ball through 20 phases, they were guilty of errors in execution and decision-making at critical periods.

They will also need to consider adapting their tactical approach to suit the defensively brilliant Stormers. As much as the players matured in Brisbane, so too did Kirwan whose game plan was smart and effective.

The Blues knew the Reds were coming off a huge game against the Brumbies and had only had six days' rest. The visitors wanted to run and stretch until the Reds broke. It was the right plan - foiled by the heroism of the hosts' defensive effort.

"After 30 minutes, I thought they were playing our game-plan and they did a really good job of it," said Reds coach Ewen McKenzie. "It was really hard work and we never touched the ball. So we did well to hang in there ... and not let the score blow out."

The Blues will have to look at their ability to adapt to the referee's rulings. Captain Ali Williams was clearly frustrated with many of Craig Joubert's interpretations at the collision. The critical penalty on 75 minutes came after the referee accused Luke Braid of 'swimming up the side' of a Reds' driving maul.

It was a big call and came after the Blues had also appeared to be on the receiving end of some harsh judgments that they had transgressed in the act of turning over possession.

Without those rulings, the Reds would have struggled for points as they didn't look like scoring a try all game.

The Blues will have to accept, whether they like it or not, that indiscipline cost them.

- Herald on Sunday

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