Rugby: Good signs for Blues in win

Blues coach John Kirwan. Photo Reuters
Blues coach John Kirwan. Photo Reuters
Blues coach John Kirwan eyeballed his squad early in the week and demanded they show "mongrel dog attitude" for their Super 15 initiation.

The response was unequivocal and insistent. It needed to be because the Blues were worked over by the Hurricanes in several areas and stiffed by the match officials for a penalty try.

The struggles have not disappeared for the Blues but signs of a revival were strong in their 34-20 win at the Cake Tin.

Rugby coaches love prattling on about "there being no I in team" and for a rare occasion, that jingle applied to the Blues when they opened their campaign in Wellington.

They played shoulder to shoulder, they concentrated on traditional roles and showed the resilience which has been too flaky for the last decade.

One victory does not guarantee a season's success and the pressure will ratchet up another notch when the Blues host the Crusaders at Eden Park on Friday.

However, the first-up performance will have stirred the pedigreed coaching staff and endorsed the players' belief they can give the series a serious shake.

As a first step for 2013, it was a giant stride for the Blues.

They hit the ignition button once wing Frank Halai was sinbinned, harshly, and the Blues yielded a penalty try.

"That was a turning point in our favour I thought," Kirwan said.

"Ali Williams got the side together and we showed our courage and conviction from there."

The Blues scored 18 unanswered points in a withering finish to the match which suggested much of their firepower.

Confidence has grown in the Blues as they have answered heavy demands about their fitness, worked on set piece drills and been encouraged to express themselves.

Charles Piutau, Rene Ranger and Francis Saili can break down any defences with their mix of power and footwork but that damaging ability can also leave them struggling to link up with teammates.

However, like all the combinations in the Blues, they are on the rise and the warnings are there in red capital letters for their rivals.

Halfback Piri Weepu marshalled the systems and delivered the service in his 100th Super game while new five-eighths Chris Noakes showed strong signs and a running game which has not been heavily associated with his career.

Both packs had their battles at scrum and lineout but the Blues conceded fewer turnovers, recycled more rucks and created more carries.

Blindside flanker Steven Luatua breached the advantage line often and there was robust production from Peter Saili, James Parsons and Williams.

Saili took a knock to his achilles but the medical staff believe he will be fine for the next match.

"We have put the Hurricanes game to bed now. We had a strong gathering afterwards where Ali led the talk about getting things right for the Crusaders," said Kirwan.

Canes coach Mark Hammett did not buy into any pre-match underdog comments about the Blues but will be pondering whether his men did, struggled with the pace of the match or even buttoned off when they had an extra man.

Captain Conrad Smith was concussed late and that will be another issue before their next away match on Friday against the Reds.

- Wynne Gray of the New Zealand Herald

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