You are not permitted to download, save or email this image. Visit image gallery to purchase the image.
After a very good performance against the Crusaders at Eden Park, the Blues have fallen back on old and very bad habits in Durban beaten by the Sharks 26-7.
The Auckland side at least got a point against the defending champions last weekend. They got nothing at Kings Park against an up-and-down Sharks team this morning (NZ time) apart possibly from heat exhaustion, as temperatures hit 30degC, and a burning sense of frustration.
The main issue, like last week, was a start in which they simply couldn't get their hands on the ball. The Sharks played with intelligence, variety and composure to keep the visitors on the back foot throughout the first half; and with three tries within the first 30 minutes the Blues were all but out of the game.
Playing like a bunch of individuals who had just met each other for the first time, there were no combinations among the Blues and nor was there any composure.
Their only serious attack in the first half - which lasted a grand total of 62 minutes due to a water break because of the heat, a potential neck injury for Sharks wing Sibusiso Nkosi and a dogged but ultimately unsuccessful search for foul play by the television match official - ended in a lame turnover and that was that.
"It's not how we wanted to start," skipper Patrick Tuipuluto said immediately afterwards. "We trained all week to get a good start and beat them up up front. It's disappointing."
All of which might make their fightback in the second half all the more disappointing for the players and new head coach Leon MacDonald who must be now be realising the extent of the challenge on his hands.
Suddenly passes were going to hand, players were running into gaps and there was genuine enthusiasm and even a hint of enjoyment. The Blues left it late against the Crusaders and should have won it. Here they didn't deserve a victory but they showed that when they play with hunger and determination they can be a difficult team to stop.
Flanker Dalton Papalii - without doubt the Blues' best due to a nearly superhuman workrate - began dominating all over the field. Wing Melani Nanai - originally named at fullback but wearing the No14 jersey due to the late withdrawal of Caleb Clarke - began probing and stressing the home side's defence and even fullback Michael Collins, who has endured a difficult couple of matches, began enjoying some success on attack.
Adding to the mix were the Blues' replacements whom all added something, in particular prop Alex Hodgman and outside back Tanielu Tele'a.
Otere Black had a try under the posts disallowed due to Papalii's act in holding back a would-be defender from the preceding scrum, but wing Tele'a, who impressed hugely on debut, was over the line soon after thanks a Black assist and with the score 19-7 and the Sharks not visiting the Blues territory since before halftime, there was an upset brewing.
It gained momentum when lock Ruan Botha was sinbinned for a cynical breakdown offence - one of many as the Sharks desperately held on - but an intercept try by Curwin Bosch ensured the Blues would leave for Buenos Aires and their match against the Jaguares next weekend with nothing in terms of competition points.
Same old Blues? A four-try-to-one defeat would suggest so. And yet, it's clear this group of players do have something. It's just a matter of drawing it out of them on a consistent basis. And preferably before half the game is over. MacDonald has a tough task ahead of him this season.
Sharks 26 (Aphalele Fassi, Akker van der Merwe, Robert du Preez, Curwin Bosch tries; Preez 3 cons)
Blues 7 (Tanielu Tele'a try; Otere Black con)
- By Patrick McKendry