Super Rugby 2018
Blues vs Chiefs
Final Score: Chiefs 27 Blues 21
Referee: Ben O’Keeffe (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Brendan Pickerill (New Zealand), Angus Mabey (New Zealand)
TMO: Ben Skeen (New Zealand)
In my Preview to this game I said that I was going against the call made by most tipsters and commentators. I was bucking the odds offered by the bookies. I called the game in favour of the Chiefs!
(If only I was a betting man! I could have made some money if I had backed the Chiefs!)
I have to admit the news that came through just before the kick-off that both Brodie Retallick and Shaun Stevenson had been forced to withdraw from the team did give me some cause to ponder the wisdom of my suggesting the Chiefs would win! Retallick is the powerhouse, the engine, of the Chiefs pack, especially critical as his regular locking partner, Dominic Bird was already out with an injury. Stevenson had replaced the injured Charlie Ngatai and was already the second choice in the fullback berth.
The loss of two players just before the kick-off is never a good thing. But it did not seem to worry the Chiefs too much. Mitchell Brown came into the starting line-up in Retallick’s place while Tiaan Falcon replaced Stevenson. However, it did give the Chiefs something of a 3rd Team look……..
This was a truly entertaining game of rugby, which could have gone either way right to the very end. There might have been plenty of unforced errors, and moments of mediocrity, but overall it was a game of rugby that was worth the price of a seat in the stadium.
Both teams carried the ball with purpose. The Blues making 801 meters with the ball in hand, in 111 carries, while the Chiefs made 769 meters in 95 carries. The Chiefs averaged 8 meters per carry and the Blues 7 meters. Both teams broke the opposition line 7 times.
Both teams flung the ball around, the Blues making 112 good passes and the Chiefs 109. The Blues were especially good in the offload, making a whole 18 offloads while the Chiefs, the recognised masters of the offload, made just 6.
The Blues also chose to run rather than kick more often than did the Chiefs, the Blues only kicked the ball 12 times in the entire game, while the Chiefs launched it with the boot 21 times.
The Blues attacked the Chiefs defence with some purpose, and managed to break through tackles 12 times, and forced the Chiefs to miss rather a lot of tackles, 30 in all. In contrast, the Chiefs managed to break the tackle just 3 times and the Blues missed just 17 tackles.
Lineouts were pretty even, the scrums too, though the Chiefs just seemed that bit more stable in the scrums. On the ground the Chiefs reigned supreme, turning the ball over 17 times and conceding just 6. The biggest difference between the two teams with on the drive in the midfield and in the maul. In both phases they had better body positions and better binding. They were simply more cohesive as a forward unit.
This game saw some truly massive tackles, particularly on Damien McKenzie as the Blues tried to negate his attacking flair. He got hit by two monster tackles. One from Matt Duffie and another by Rieko Ioane. He is a tough little bugger, after both hits he was back on his feet and ready to go again, even cheekily asking the ref if the tackles were legal with a big smile on his face.
The Chiefs eventually outscored the Blues by four tries to three.
The Chiefs winning margin might have been somewhat larger if Damian McKenzie’s boot had been on form, his goal kicking was off target, converting just 50% of his attempts at the posts. He converted just two of the 4 tries and missed a fairly easy penalty goal too.
As I watched the game I wondered whether the Blues had reached a level, some kid of glass ceiling, that they cannot seem to breach. They just seem to be repeating the same mistakes, year in and year out, game after game, after game. They put up a creditable performance for the first 60 minutes of every game they play, and then they just seem to implode. They start throwing wild passes, making strange tactical decisions, running the wrong lines, conceding critical penalties, slipping a tackle or two, making a high tackle…..
They just seem to lack the final effort, that X-factor that puts a game away when it there for the taking.
The Chiefs, in contrast, know how to turn up the gas for that final 20 minutes of a game. They seem to have more mongrel, more focus and, critically, more belief.
Among the stand-out players was Damian McKenzie for the Chiefs. He might still be finding his feet at flyhalf, and is just a little light in the tackle when he plays fullback, but this kid is the real deal. He is going to give many defenders many headaches in the years that lie ahead. Incidentally, the injury to Richie Mo’unga in the Crusaders/Stormers game has put the latter out for several months, which will give McKenzie the inside track as the possible 10 back-up to Beauden Barrett in the All Black squad. He is already in the squad as a utility player, but the injury to Mo’unga makes him even more valuable.
Augustine Pulu, the Blues 9, laid down a marker in this game. He told anyone who cared to listen that he was in contention as the No 3 scrumhalf for the All Blacks, behodn Aaron Smith and TJ Perenara. Sadly he too has been injured and will miss the Blues tour to South Africa next week.
In the final analysis, the Chiefs were the better side, and deserved their win. I am not sure what the Blues will do when they have to face a full-strength Chiefs outfit?
Tries: Pulu, A Ioane, Gatland
Cons: Gatland 3
Tries: Seu, Wainui, Cane, Weber
Cons: McKenzie 2
Blues: 15 Melani Nanai, 14 Matt Duffie, 13 George Moala, 12 TJ Faiane, 11 Rieko Ioane, 10 Bryn Gatland, 9 Augustine Pulu (c), 8 Akira Ioane, 7 Murphy Taramai, 6 Jimmy Tupou, 5 Scott Scrafton, 4 Patrick Tuipulotu, 3 Ofa Tu’ungafasi, 2 James Parsons, 1 Pauliasi Manu
Replacements: 16 Leni Apisai, 17 Alex Hodgman, 18 Michael Tamoaieta, 19 Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, 20 Jerome Kaino, 21 Sam Nock, 22 Daniel Kirkpatrick, 23 Michael Collins
Chiefs: 15 Tiaan Falcon, 14 Sean Wainui, 13 Anton Lienert-Brown, 12 Johnny Faauli, 11 Solomon Alaimalo, 10 Damian McKenzie, 9 Brad Weber, 8 Taleni Seu, 7 Sam Cane (c), 6 Liam Messam, 5 Michael Allardice, 4 Mitchell Brown, 3 Nepo Laulala, 2 Nathan Harris, 1 Aidan Ross
Replacements: 16 Liam Polwart, 17 Karl Tu’inukuafe, 18 Angus Ta’avao, 19 Tyler Ardron, 20 Lachlan Boshier, 21 Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, 22 Luke Jacobsen, 23 Declan O’Donnell