The Blues have inched for­ward in the last two sea­sons but will this be the year they take a quan­tum leap and learn how to win pres­sure games against NZ sides?

THE BLUES HAVE SLOWLY IM­PROVED IN THE LAST TWO YEARS BUT THEY NEED TO FIND A WAY TO WIN THE BIG MO­MENTS IN THE BIG GAMES.

NZ Rugby World - - Contents - Patrick McKendry with the story.

FIND­ING A WAY TO WIN THE BIG MO­MENTS

It wasn’t a break­through year for the Blues in 2017, more a con­tin­u­a­tion of what Tana Umaga has been build­ing at the fran­chise since he started the year be­fore.

It will take time yet be­cause he in­her­ited a bit of a sham­bles but there were some green shoots of growth. On a pos­i­tive note, the mes­sage ap­peared to get through in his first year and again last year, apart from some dis­as­ters, most no­tably the thrash­ing at the hands of the Sun­wolves in Tokyo in the team’s last match of the sea­son.

It was all the more shame­ful be­cause their match be­fore that was a re­mark­able vic­tory over the Bri­tish & Ir­ish Lions at Eden Park, a win which al­most made up for the fact that they didn’t make the play­offs. That’s been a re­cur­ring theme since 2011 but the way they played in front of a full and vo­cal crowd against the Lions sug­gests they have the play­ers to make it, and yet that has of­ten not been the case.

For what­ever rea­son, they haven’t been able to con­vert that tal­ent into re­sults. At their best the Blues can play with an in­tox­i­cat­ing free-flow­ing style that would have any team in the world in trou­ble.

They have a good pack, in­clud­ing loose for­wards Jerome Kaino and Akira Ioane and tight for­wards Patrick Tuipulotu and Ofa Tu’ungafasi, and a good set piece.

Their real strength is their back­line, though, and in par­tic­u­lar their out­side backs Rieko Ioane, Matt Duffie and Me­lani Nanai.

The key, as al­ways for the Blues and Umaga has men­tioned it again, is for them to keep con­cen­tra­tion through­out matches, to win the big mo­ments and not clock off. Do that con­sis­tently and they should sneak into the play­offs.

It’s high time they did and if their first-fives Stephen Pero­feta and Bryn Gat­land con­sis­tently per­form well they might just do it.

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