Blues vs Chiefs – Super Rugby – 31 January 2020

Reading Time: 4 minutes

The game didn’t start the way you would think. It was all Blues for the first 15 minutes. They were running at the Chiefs relentlessly at the Chiefs and with a tackle count of over 50 from the Chiefs, the wall had to break…

At 19-5 down at half-time, no one saw any signs of it ending 29-34 in favor of the Chiefs.

It was just once again a stark reminder of what New Zealand rugby has to offer. Although their players are on par with many globally in terms of their physicality, they stand out in their levels of rugby IQ. The coaching staff makes the hard decisions and the players react decisively to what is needed in any situation. Gives me goosebumps to watch!

The Chiefs started uncharacteristically sloppy and looked completely out of sorts. Not the team you have seen over the past decade. The Blues were however a picture of discipline and accuracy. There was never any doubting their talents, but there was always something missing. Has Leon McDonald found the missing recipe for Blues success?

In his way was the legend of legends Warren Gatland. The New Zealander returning to the land of the silver fern after turning Wales into a global rugby force. Who was going to have the last laugh on the day?

It was clear from the start that this wouldn’t be your average derby that the Chiefs would just go on to win in the end. The Blues vs Chiefs game has rarely looked this good in recent years.

The first 2 tries from the Blues came from total dominance in just about all aspects of the game. This despite their lineouts looking like amateur hour.

The Chiefs first try from the driving maul was however a thing of beauty. The minutes leading up to it were the first where the Chiefs actually put together some phases.

Few people would have bet on a 19-5 half-time score in favor of the Blues!

What a difference Aaron Cruden and Anton Lienert-Brown made coming off the bench at half-time!

The Chiefs made the fatal mistake of thinking there is something like an easier game in Super Rugby. All credit to their coaching staff for making the right decision in getting them on immediately at half-time. It was also not Sam Cane’s day and it was good to get him off the park.

Things however changed into a real game with those 2 substitutes and in the first 10 minutes of the 2nd half, they ran in two tries to get the score to 19-19.

The new-look Blues

Focus to go with the talent that was always there. Their first-half performance was a thing of beauty. They dominated almost every aspect of the game and it was something to behold. The only negative in the first half was their lineouts that were rubbish.

In the first 15 minutes of the second half, they just couldn’t get their hands on the ball and it was all Chiefs. When they finally did, they had a decent lineout, followed by multiple phases and everyone’s favorite NZ prop, Karl Tu’inukuafe going over after another quick ruck. He was looking a lot leaner and fitter than he had been in the previous two seasons!

The Blues benefited from replacing Ruru with Sam Nock as well. He was much sharper with his play off the base of the rucks. He also really put pressure on the opposition around crums forcing bad ball and turnovers.

The kicking of Stephen Perofeta at goal was not what it should have been and he left some points out there. Apart from that if you get a performance like that from a 22-year old flyhalf in the first game of the season… things should turn out well.

The hot and cold Chiefs

There was almost nothing to get excited about from the Chiefs in the first half. Their defense held up really well in the bombardment of the first 15 minutes. This was capped at the end of the half by their well worked driving maul getting them 5 points.

That good work was however undone by being dominated in the scrum shortly after and letting in Ioane for his 2nd try shortly after.

When Anton Lienert-Brown came in at inside centre suddenly Quinn Tupaea also started looking the part! His break through the defense about 10 minutes into the 2nd half was a thing of beauty and led to their 2nd try by substitute Pita Sowakula.

Outstanding players

Blues: Tom Robinson (5), Tony Lamborn (7), Hoskins Sotutu (8), Rieko Ioane (11), Mark Telea (14), Matt Duffie (15), Karl Tu’inukuafe (17), Sam Nock (21)

Chiefs: Lachlan Boshier (6), Aaron Cruden (22), Anton Lienert-Brown (23), Quin Tupaea (13)

ThysRugby man of the match: It would have been Tony Lamborn with 100% Beast Mode! Then Aaron Cruden came on.

Plays of the game

  • The 47 tackles the Chiefs made in the first 9 minutes keeping the Blues scoreless (the Blues only made 2 in the same time)
  • Tony Lamborn running the match with his running, tackling, ruck work, try, kick down the touchline
  • Brilliantly worked Rieko Ioane try bringing him in from the blindside. He scored it, but it was the manipulation of the defense by the centres running without the ball that created the space
  • Blues scrum just before half-time on the Chiefs 22 where they OBLITERATED the Chiefs on their own scrum resulting in a penalty and the 2nd Rieko Ioane try
  • Chiefs coaching staff’s decision to pull Sam Cane and bring on two Chiefs legends in Aaron Cruden and Anton Lienert-Brown

Final verdict

Blues: I hope that the Blues team that pitched up for this game, stays around for the rest of the season! What a great team to watch. If they stick to this work rate and focus, they will be in the mix with the Hurricanes and Crusaders when we come to the end of the season.

They dominated the first half! When they turned the Chiefs stepped up rather than them not performing. Their defensive efforts should have been a lot better in the 2nd half though. They let in a flurry of tries from the Chiefs that could have been prevented with better defensive alignment.

Chiefs: Sadly they were a little stale. There were a number of players that didn’t fire (most notably captain Sam Cane). When the changes were wrung at halftime things started changing for the better. Aaron Cruden is just quality through and through. If Damian McKenzie joins from 15, then things might get interesting.

The error in judgment of starting with a weaker side was a bad one. Hopefully, the team we saw in the 2nd half is the one we will see going forward. The great news for them is that they have Warren Gatland calling the shots from the coaching box. Could they ask for any better?

Lots of work for them over the next few weeks on the training pitch though.