Kirwan’s Blues superb in Perth
Western Force left in shock
‘‘No excuses’’ was John Kirwan’s war-cry before the Blues pulverised the Western Force 40-14 in Perth.
The Blues had not won away from Auckland since February 3 last year but when the final whistle sounded at nib Stadium yesterday morning noone could dispute that Kirwan’s gang had snapped their 13-game losing sequence in style.
Kirwan demanded his players show some ticker and he got it: a blistering first 18 minutes, in which the tourists’ relentless waves of attack resulted in tries to Ihaia West, Charlie Faumuina, Lolagi Visinia and Ma’a Nonu, left the Force tacklers staring at the stars in bemusement. The Force players were not the only ones to wonder what was going on: many Blues supporters will have questioned why their side had not produced such efforts on the road much earlier in the season.
It is a sentiment Kirwan would struggle to dispute but if anyone wanted to get bolshie on the issue he would counter that his side still have a chance of making the playoffs.
Victories over the Crusaders and Chiefs in their final regular-season games could lift the eighth-placed Blues inside the top six – but that remains a long shot and requires other sides to stumble.
Given the way the Crusaders bumbled about in their 16-9 loss to the Hurricanes in Wellington a few hours earlier, Kirwan must be optimistic about his side’s chances in next Saturday night’s match in Christchurch.
While the Blues backs were rampant in Perth the Crusaders looked a disoriented bunch as Colin Slade and Tom Taylor were put under immense pressure when making exit kicks.
Although Dan Carter made his return from his six-month sabbatical in the second half, when Slade failed a concussion test, he could not generate the much-needed electricity for a side which, for long periods, looked disorganised and flat.
Instead it was Canes forward Blade Thomson, who started at lock but later shifted into the back row as injury cover, who stuffed the Crusaders with his two tries.
Thomson’s second was a pearler; when Taylor failed to defuse a Cory Jane grubber and the 1.98m forward ripped it out of the air and burst 50m downfield to score the match-winner.
Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder finally employed his bench players in the second spell, including No 8 Kieran Read and tighthead prop Owen Franks, but although the forwards clearly had an edge in the set-pieces the Hurricanes defence held firm.
Following his side’s 29-25 loss to the Highlanders in Dunedin on Friday night, Chiefs coach Dave Rennie knows winning in Wellington next Friday evening is imperative.
The Hurricanes, who have the bye in the final round, will build up to this as if it is a test match. The Chiefs could still qualify for the finals but those chances hang by a thread.
Injuries to influential Canes’ players Victor Vito and Alapati Leiua may assist the Chiefs’ cause but Rennie will be more concerned about how to get the defending champions in the right mental state after they were out-passioned by the Highlanders. All New Zealanders will be rooting for the Highlanders as they joust with the rejuvenated Waratahs in Sydney. The New South Welshmen destroyed the injuryravaged Brumbies 39-8 in Sydney, the bonus-point victory propelling them to the top of the competition table. No South African teams played because of the Springboks-Scotland test.
Too powerful: Ma’a Nonu scored a try as the Blues kept their Super Rugby playoff hopes alive with a 40-14 thrashing of the Force in Perth.
Just do it: John Kirwan’s call to arms was heeded by the Blues.