Rivals face crucial showdown

Rene Ranger has work to do if he is to return to the All Blacks.
Rene Ranger has work to do if he is to return to the All Blacks. Dean Purcell

IN THE blink of one round of Super 15, franchise neighbours the Blues and Chiefs face a Friday night funk in Hamilton.

A repeat defeat will have the losers scanning their schedules and wondering what damage they have done to their playoff targets. The Blues head away for duels with the Bulls and Stormers in Africa while the Chiefs have to pitch up against the Crusaders and Brumbies.

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After the Blues and Chiefs both fell in round one, the pressure has gone up another notch for their duel at Waikato Stadium.

The Blues were counting their lack of clinical composure in their 19-18 loss to the Crusaders while the Chiefs lost their way and four men to significant injury as they subsided against the Highlanders.

Gloomily for the Blues, coach Pat Lam hit paydirt with a forecast his side would suffer against the Crusaders unless they played as a unified combination when the 17th series started at Eden Park.

The match was a cut above any others but Lam watched his caution play out as the Crusaders goaled one second-half penalty for the win.

It had begun so well for the Blues though, with a chargedown try to Chris Lowrey and a second to right wing David Raikuna as the Crusaders struggled to get into the match.

"It looked like a training run after 15 minutes in the sense that the boys were in the right places, the skill level was good and a lot of our structure was there," Lam said, "and then certainly at the start of the second half we showed it again.

"I said before the game that we could only beat the Crusaders as a team. When we did play as a team and had people doing the right things, we looked pretty good and then there were lapses and those are the things you need to tidy up before you go into the next one."

At least the Blues' playing roster was intact in contrast to some of the other franchise casualties, while he felt the Blues and Crusaders had delivered strong efforts.

The opening round had unveiled some broad trends but was just a start for players, coaches and officials. No side scored a bonus point try.

"After 15 minutes we were heading there and then it dried up. It is early days," Lam said.

Teams' rollercoaster graphs were to be expected. It was often the same in test matches where results could swing on small decisions.

"We did well to get in a position to win the game," Lam said. "We got off to a flier and we have to look at why we couldn't keep that going and a lot of that is about playing the Crusaders.

"It is very similar to test match rugby."

Now the task was to tidy up the mistakes and tighten the patterns for the Chiefs on Friday. The last time the sides met in Hamilton the Blues came off second best.

"Our focus is on what we do going into the game. It is about getting our game right," Lam said.

Backs coach Bryce Woodward lamented the lack of clean ball to operate any strike moves. The setpiece had struggled and that lack of rhythm spread to the backs.

Michael Hobbs, given his time away from the game, had played soundly and Piri Weepu got some final quarter time because Benson Stanley was starting to struggle with a groin strain.

New recruit Ma'a Nonu would rejoin the squad today but would not be considered for his Blues debut until he left with the side for Africa.

Rene Ranger had been destructive on attack but also lost the ball in contact and crucially his way on defence once against an equally rumbustious Robbie Fruean.

Topics:  auckland blues super 15

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