Don’t blame young Harry Plummer for missing a conversion and a penalty which would have saved the Blues from their 24-22 Super Rugby loss to the champion Crusaders at Eden Park on Saturday.
Instead blame new captain Patrick Tuipulotu for not ordering Atere Black to take some easy shots much earlier in what otherwise was an encouraging start for the home side.
Against a team of the Crusaders’ vast talent you must take any gift offered, just as Handre Pollard did when his boot contributed 20 points for the Bulls in their 40-3 win against the hapless Stormers.
Hopefully it’s a lesson powerful lock Tuipulotu will learn from because, at long last, the Blues have a side capable of causing all-comers a tough time. However discipline will need to sharpen after conceding two penalty tries against the champions,
Particularly impressive were No 8 Akira Ioane and raw-boned blindside flanker Tom Robinson who has the mongrel factor that made the late Jerry Collins and Jerome Kaino such menacing bone-crushers.
Under the guidance of forward coach Tom Coventry, the supremely gifted Ioane appears to be lifting his work rate to complement his enormous attacking talent.
With co-captain Blake Gibson and new All Black Dalton Papalii vying for the No 6 starting berth, the Blues loose forwards are blessed with depth.
At 1.98m and 110kg, fiery Northlander Robinson can also play lock and there is plenty of power in a scrum that can call on All Blacks Karl Tu’inukuafe, Ofa Tu’ungafasi and Tuipulotu.
There was plenty of interest in 36-year-old Ma’a Nonu’s return after three years playing in France and he didn’t disappoint, tackling fiercely and making smart offloads.
However he failed to make the outside breaks his 21-year-old, faster, talented marker Braydon Ennor did.
A former St Kentigern College student, Ennor is yet another player who escaped the Blues’ net to thrive in Crusaders territory.
Normally a wing, he could return to that position when the Crusaders combine All Blacks Ryan Crotty and Jack Goodhew in midfield.
While replacement halfback and former skipper Augustine Pulu scored a good try, he failed to take the smart options of Jonathan Ruru who, along with second-five TJ Faiane (Pakuranga United Rugby Club and ex-St Kents), was a star performer for Auckland’s Mitre 10 premiership champion team.
All five New Zealand teams featured in tight games with the Highlanders edging the Chiefs 30-27and the Hurricanes pipping the Waratahs 20-19.
With a sprained ankle preventing Damian McKenzie from playing, Counties midfielder Orbyn Leger slotted into first-five admirably for the Chiefs, as did Josh Ioane for the Highlanders.
However the best back in the Hamilton clash was heady Chiefs second-five Anton Lienert-Brown who side-stepped defenders and made some glorious offloads.
Having scored a double in his debut for the Chiefs, left wing Etene Nanai-Seturo looked a class act.
With Ardie Savea’s second try disallowed because of Du’Plessis Kirifi’s forearm to Michael Hooper’s head, Kirifi made amends with a storming Hurricanes try that sealed the Waratahs’ fate.
On Friday the Highlanders host the much-improved Rebels while the Crusaders are at home to the Hurricanes on Saturday night when the Chiefs face the Brumbies in Canberra.
On Sunday the Blues should record their first win of the season when tackling the Sharks in Durban.
- Ivan Agnew is an award-winning sports writer and author