Like all Blues supporters we were very disappointed not to get the result against the Crusaders last Friday. Against a strong Crusaders side the momentum shifted a few times during the game and to get off to an early 12 point start but to give away some soft penalties and end up losing was frustrating.
Everyone understands the things that didn’t go right for us as they were fairly obvious. We couldn’t get good set piece from some of our lineouts and we didn’t finish off some of the line breaks we made.
There were positives to come out of the game however. We put some good pressure on them in defence which led to both tries, one a charge down and the other a turnover from Daniel Braid followed by some good phase play.
When we were 19-18 down with three minutes to go we put ourselves in a position to win the game and certainly looking at the video of Piri’s drop goal attempt the ball was going over bar a fingertip so that was probably what was most frustrating. It was funny, sitting in the coaches box I turned around to Bryce Woodward with 10 minutes to go and said ‘well the pre-season is really over now,’ with all the nerves and the way it was going.
Speaking with Todd Blackadder after the game he said how close our games have been over the last few years, they swing both ways and it always goes right down to the wire and it was certainly another one of those games but this time they came out on top. However we live to fight another day although it’s fair to say we were pretty gutted with that and we need to take that disappointment into this week.
While we take the positives, we also take a real determination to get the win against a Chiefs side who love playing against the Blues and get really fired up for it.
The real bonus of the game last week was the fantastic turnout of the crowd. To walk into your home stadium and see the flags flying, people face painted and dressed in blue, kids lining the tunnel as the players arrived shaking their hands and screaming out their names was tremendous.
The Blue Army kicked off their showing of support which was good to see and Todd Blackadder said to me after the game, ‘I like that Blue Army, they gave our boys a bit of banter’ and that’s what it’s all about so he really enjoyed that too, I don’t think the Crusaders enjoyed doing their warm up down that end of the field though! So well done to the Blue Army, well done to everyone who dressed up in blue and well done to everyone who came down, we’re just disappointed we couldn’t get the win for you but it’s a long season and we know we’re going to get better.
A nice thing after the match finished was that some of the Blue Army came into the changing sheds and they were pretty enthusiastic. They got their t-shirts signed, met the players and got a good feel for what it’s like in the changing sheds post-match, it probably wasn’t as happy as it could have been but they were buzzing and really enjoyed it. It was a reward for coming down and being involved so if you want to be part of that get on down, turn up in blue and you’ll also have the opportunity to experience something few people get to.
A lot of people would have noticed Ma’a Nonu at the game on Friday. It was a big call for him, he came back with his older son although his new born is still waiting for a passport with his mother in Japan. He told me he was going to go to Wellington, drop his boy off and come back to Auckland for the match before returning to Wellington.
I told him to stay down there and spend time with his family but he was determined to come back so he flew all the way back, he obviously had jet lag and he sat in the box and watched the game trying with us to pick up as much as he could at this stage. It was a real buzz for the boys, he arrived in the changing room while we were getting ready for the game and everyone was pleased to see him and he’s going to be a great contributor to us.
Sitting there talking with him, it’s been a long non-stop year for him since Super Rugby last year right through the World Cup, Japan and now another season of Super Rugby so how we manage him is crucial. Taking him on the tour to South Africa is a great chance for him to get to know a lot of the boys, living and breathing Blues rugby and being together is the best way for him so he’ll be available for the first game over there against the Bulls.
This week it was great to have our family of sponsors come over to our training base at Unitec and join us for lunch. Nando’s put on a lovely feed and the boys got up and were tasked with speaking to a different sponsor for 15 minutes to get to know them before they introduced them to the rest of the group.
They did a fantastic job and we got a lot of positive feedback from our sponsors, it was slightly different from what we normally do in that instead of one person getting up to introduce the whole group everyone was introduced individually by all the players so it was a great day. We realise how important sponsors are to our organisation and also to our team, it’s not possible without them so it was great to see them all there.
Obviously there was a bit of fire at training this week following on from the loss, we had a physical session and unfortunately one of the casualties was Charlie Faumuina. He strained his medial ligament and he’s out for possibly 10 days so he’s been ruled out for this Friday’s match against the Chiefs.
Tevita Mailau will step up and I’m sure he’ll do a great job. I remember two years ago against the Bulls he came on for his first start and played a fantastic game so I have a lot of confidence that Tevita will do that again. Filling his place on the bench will be young prop Angus Ta’avao who gets his first opportunity in the Blues 22. Injuries are just the nature of this competition as the Chiefs well know. You’re going to get injuries and you’ve got to trust your squad and that’s what we’ve done.
Otherwise the rest of the team we’ve named for Friday is the same and there’s a real determination by the guys to front. While some of them played well, they all know they can be better so they’ve all been given another chance to get out there and give a performance that was better than last time. If we do that collectively it gives us a good chance of a victory.
While the Chiefs have a few injuries to contend with they still have a strong squad and Blues v Chiefs games are always close encounters. If you look at the results of years gone by they’ve all been very close games, all the derby games are but particularly Blues v Chiefs clashes.
We won a close one down there last year and they won a close one against us up here in the second round, and in both of those games the thing that stands out is the contact. We know they’ll scrap for everything which is fine as long as we go out there to scrap for everything too. If we do that it will be a cracker of a game and we will give ourselves a good chance of winning it.
It’s always a tricky week before you head off to Africa because players have to get all their packing, details, travel documents and other bits and pieces sorted without detracting from the upcoming game. Obviously we play Friday night and we don’t get home until midnight in Auckland and then we’re out at the airport at midday the following day.
To combat this we get a lot of the admin stuff out of the way early in the week. All the squad have to prepare to go in case there are injuries on the weekend and someone might be called upon at the last minute to travel, so we do all that early in the week and then park it and say the focus is now on the Chiefs which is important.
We’ll name the travelling squad in the coming days and unfortunately you can only take 26 out of your 30 man squad so normally injuries play a part in that selection process and we’re happy we’ll have a good squad to tour with this year. We’ve only got two games on tour this time, normally we have one in Australia as well so it’s a short tour but a tough one as we take on the Bulls and Stormers but I’ll talk more about that next week.