5 Mar

Where is my mind?
by Rob Wallace
5 Mar 2002

The Blues must be wondering how they managed to stuff up, as they came right down to earth with a 34-24 loss to the Reds on Saturday. After the glorious, team oriented, organised performance of a week ago versus the Hurricanes we caught a glimpse of the bad old Blues this week.

They got off to a great start, 14-0 up after 10 minutes but then failed to provide the cohesive play needed to maintain the lead. The main problems were with the pack, which never gelled and played individual roles only. With the delivery of poor, backfoot ball to the backs we saw a familiar scenario of Spencer being unable to control the game and the pattern turning to custard.

There were further glaring errors – control at the kickoffs was again appalling. Flavell appears to be the target man, but seems unable to do the job, despite presumably practising after the problems in Wellington. The lineouts were not much better with both Flavell and Taylor being pressured at times. Probably the worst facet was the tackling, with Parkinson being the main culprit, but many of the players missing tackles they should have made.

There is a lot to work on here. Consideration should be given to starting Califano, and moving Flavell to blindside and introducing Ali Williams as both a lineout target and a receiver at kickoffs. Taylor’s strengths are immense, particularly in the tight, but he needs help in the lineouts and aerial play. Flavell revels in that tight/loose play and needs to be freed up. Robinson’s running and sniping game, appears not to suit the backline – Devine’s silky smooth service gets the ball out to those dangerous threequarters quicker.

Spencer is clearly the most brilliant 1st 5 in NZ, but he continually demonstrates that he is crap when his pack can’t dominate. In those circumstances, introducing Arlidge, who is safer and more organised, often settles down both the team and the pattern – the Blues need to consider when to do this.

On the plus side: Cribb appears to be returning to his best form, and as such offers more than any other No8 in NZ, the front row has the quality needed, and when the pack play cohesively they look awesome. The backline has some of the most exciting players in NZ but need decent ball to function.

And now they have the biggest challenge available in NZ – beating the Crusaders at home. It can be done – the Blues have the individual talent to compete – but it will require a better team effort than we have seen for years for them to triumph.

Other games:

The Crusaders, surprisingly after their imperious NPC form, struggled a bit against the Chiefs, but as always with such a classy team, came away with the win. Nevertheless they look a bit off their top form. The Chiefs were a huge improvement on last week, but lack the front 5 to really trouble the top teams.

The Highlanders had top win over the Sharks. After struggling hard to subdue them, they finally got on top after 60 minutes to finally waltz away with a 45-5 victory. They look a well-organised team under Mains and should be close to the playoffs.

And the Hurricanes – after the most dismal performance by a Kiwi team ever, they travel to SA and, of course, play great rugby to win against the Bulls. Jeez I’m glad I’m not a Canes supporter – how tough would that be?

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