High hopes that the injection of coaches Leon MacDonald and Tom Coventry would lift the Blues out of Super Rugby obscurity are starting to look as bleak as the form of veteran midfielders Ma’a Nonu and Sonny Bill Williams.
Having suffered their third loss in as many games with their 19-23 away defeat to the Jaguares, the Blues lacked flair and imagination against a staunch defence.
In fairness, MacDonald and Coventry are proven coaches who need more time to make an impact in conjunction with former head coach Tana Umaga. However their faith in veterans Nonu and Williams should be wavering after such a shaky start.
Nonu, aged 36, one of our greatest second-fives until his international retirement after the All Blacks successful 2015 defence of their world crown, looked slow and ponderous against the Jaguares whereas SBW was little better when he replaced him.
Neither has shown the sharpness Blues centre TJ Faiane did when wearing the No 12 jersey when leading Auckland to last year’s Mitre 10 premiership crown. Consequently dangerous left wing Rieko Ioane was left largely unemployed.
Both will need to sharpen their act quickly to justify MacDonald’s plan to rotate them so they can be fresh for the World Cup in Japan later in the year.
The best performance from a NZ No 12 in this year’s Super championship have come from Anton Lienert- Brown (Chiefs) and Ngane Laumape (Hurricanes).
The one bright spot from an otherwise dismal Blues performance was the dynamic form of flankers Tom Robinson and Dalton Papalii with a sharp late Papalii try giving the Blues unexpected hope at the death.
In contrast, the well-drilled champion Crusaders remain the only unbeaten team after three rounds. However they had to work hard to withstand the challenge of the much-improved Reds who have narrowly lost their first two games under the coaching of former All Black hard man Brad Thorn.
In the end the Crusaders scored four tries to the Reds’ two to clinch a 22-12 victory, with speedy 20-year-old fullback Will Jordan and powerful centre Jack Goodhue the backline stars.
But for sheer brilliance there were none to match juggernaut second-five Ngani Laumape and speedy hooker Dane Coles in the Hurricanes’ impressive 43-13 thrashing of the Brumbies in Palmerston North where home town lad Laumape scored a hat-trick of tries and Coles ended with a brace.
A prolific try-scorer, the immensely strong Laumape is the most destructive midfield back in the country and thrives playing outside TJ Perenara and Beauden Barrett.
With centre Matt Proctor such a good tackler and an unselfish off-loader, wings Ben Lam and Vince Aso don’t lack attacking chances.
However the one to catch the eye against the Brumbies was 23-year-old Chase Tiatia who filled Jordie Barrett’s No 15 jersey and looks yet another Hurricanes excitement machine.
Blessed with good footwork, Bay of Plenty utility back Tiatia is a strong, fast lad who attacks with confidence and flair.
Certainly the once proud Chiefs will have cause to regret releasing him from their 2018 squad, especially after granting the much-improved Sunwolves their first away win in the competition, 30-15, in Hamilton with a shocking performance.
It’s dismal reading for the Blues and Chiefs who are 13th and 14th on the 15-team table led once again by the Crusaders.
- Ivan Agnew is an award-winning sports writer and author