Rugby: Blues looking to express themselves

The stakes might have gone up, but the Blues are looking to avoid the over-cautious route in their sudden-death Super 15 rugby semifinal qualifier against the New South Wales Waratahs in Auckland tomorrow night.

The weather could have a bearing on how the match pans out, with showers and a possible thunderstorm forecast.

But skipper Keven Mealamu said it was important his players weren't inhibited by the occasion at Eden Park.

"We want them not to get into their shells, to be able to go out there and really express themselves," he said.

"I think sometimes you get stuck in big games and tend to take the conservative option. We still want to be able to play what's in front of us."

While the Blues have a settled line-up, with the only switch to their starting 15 being halfback Alby Mathewson's return after a head knock, the Waratahs have made five changes, four of them forced by further defections in a campaign marked by injury.

However, Mealamu said a rejigged NSW line-up brought its own problems for the Blues.

"They probably pose a bigger challenge because we haven't seen that much of them and we're not too sure what they'll bring," he said of the replacements.

"We don't have as much footage as we would like. It makes it a little bit tougher preparing for them."

The Blues won the round-robin meeting between the sides at Eden Park in April 31-17 in what turned out to be the proverbial game of two halves.

The home side had already grabbed their bonus point try after just 26 minutes and led 31-7 at the interval.

But the Waratahs, who finished the regular season with the best defence, held the opposition scoreless after the break, while adding two unconverted tries.

The Blues haven't forgotten the lessons of that second half.

"If we let our foot off the throat this week with sort of performance," Mealmau said, "it will cost us the game."

The 83-test hooker has been an ever-present in the Blues pack this season along with prop John Afoa, and he was feeling "pretty good" despite the extended schedule.

A member of the Blues' last title triumph in 2003 and their one playoff appearance since then in 2007, he was excited by the challenge ahead.

"I'm in a good frame of mind because of the situation," he said.

"We've got an opportunity to move further in this competition and we haven't been here for a long time."

NSW skipper Phil Waugh said he expected the knock-out scenario to give the contest a bit of of a test match edge.

But he also said the Waratah were "coming here to play".

"Both teams will look to play with the ball," he said.

"It would nice if the rain stayed away, but it's obviously New Zealand conditions and we've trained accordingly."

Waugh, 31, will have added personal motivation in seeing his side get past the Blues.

With the Wallaby flanker having announced this week that he would retire from professional rugby at year's end, victory would mean prolonging his 13-season Super rugby career for at least another week.

 

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