Blues batter inept Chiefs

The Blues ended their Super 14 campaign with a scrappy 30-20 victory over the Chiefs in Auckland.

The Blues scored five tries, but that should have been closer to nine, while their defensive frailty was exposed once more by an inexperienced Chiefs side.

The opening 10 minutes underlined exactly why the Blues, who are laden with All Blacks, have failed to deliver on their promise. They butchered two excellent opportunities, the most criminal of which can be attributed to an amateur right-pass from Rene Ranger with three unmarked men on his outside. Stephen Brett then hooked the simplest of penalty kicks.

Watching these teams is like watching a rubbish movie after being enticed to do so by a fantastic trailer. It looks like an Oscar contender on the highlight reel, but the actual play leaves you feeling cheated.

The Chiefs’ C-list cast wasn’t much better, and while the side-to-side attack will reinforce the loyalty of supporters taken by that brand of rugby, it was dreadfully ineffective, largely because the basic skill level of these professionals, particularly their catching and passing, was awful.

The scoreline suggests that these teams seemed to have made progress in remedying the defensive failings that have marred their campaign, but lateral attacks are hardly taxing from a defensive perspective, and the fact that neither side was able to play through more than a handful of phases meant the respective defensive lines were seldom stretched – the bulk of the game’s seven tries were down to fundamental defensive errors rather than precise, structured attack.

Certainly there were moments that enthralled, but equally there were moments that infuriated and the Blues’ first try featured a blend of both. Rudi Wulf’s counter-attack fell into the former category but the Chiefs’ efforts to repel the winger were poor. The ball was recycled to Paul Williams who took advantage of a depleted defensive line. Brett, having made a mess of the earlier elementary effort, converted from the touchline.

Chiefs pivot Trent Renata reduced the deficit to four points with a penalty kick, but the visitors’ defensive resolve was being chipped away through wave after wave of attack, and they relented once more, this time Benson Stanley rounding off an expansive attack.

Even at 12-6, Renata having kicked a second penalty, you sensed that the Blues were en route to victory given the Chiefs’ attacking ineptitude – balls were received in stationary positions, attackers were isolated and turnovers were plentiful.

Alby Mathewson profited from some more ordinary defending seven minutes after the restart, this time it was young Renata who was taught a harsh lesson, but the more senior men who covered him didn’t fare much better in resisting the scrumhalf. Brett’s inconsistency with the boot was illustrated when he missed another easy conversion, but slotted a penalty from 35m on the angle shortly thereafter.

Save Tokula then recalled the defensive demons that have haunted the Blues this season, slicing through the midfield and making 40m before the move broke down on the 5m line and a quick recycle put Liam Messam into space.

But normal service quickly resumed with Wulf touching down in the corner for the 500th
try of the season, a tournament record. That suggests the new breakdown law interpretations have achieved their desired goal, but the cynics would certainly point to a decrease in defensive solidity, particularly from those teams in the bottom half of the table.

Wulf then put an inside-outside step on Tim Nanai-Williams following a set move from a lineout on the opposite side of the field to secure the result. Tokula delivered a thrilling send off with a incisive break to salvage some pride, but it failed to plaster over their shortcomings.

Major improvements are needed for both these franchises next season, particularly the Blues, who should be title contenders with the calibre of players they have. The Chiefs’ massive regression from finalists in 2009 to chumps in 2010 can only in part be attributed to injuries to key players. Even when those men were fit they failed to impress and like the Blues are too talented a squad to underachieve in the manner they have.

By Ryan Vrede