Opinion - It wasn't quite a weekend to forget for both the Blues men's and women's sides, because they both played their parts in two very dramatic games of Super Rugby. It was the bit about being on the wrong side of both results that will sting, especially since so much of the way both teams went down was eerily similar.
The men played some of their best rugby in the 34-28 loss to the Crusaders, a game that lived up to the hype and left a lot wishing that was the spectacle we'd had in last year's final. But the unfortunate truth is that while the Crusaders were back to their efficient best, as expected mind you, the Blues had more than enough ball and territory to win the game in front of a 24,000-strong Eden Park crowd.
They gashed the Crusaders twice in the first half through Mark Telea's freakish solo effort and then Roger Tuivasa-Sheck finishing off a sweeping move, but by the second seemed content to try and take the Crusaders on directly. It worked when Stephen Perofeta bludgeoned his way over but it seemed like as the game wore on, the more comfortable the Crusaders were to simply tackle their way to victory.
The best evidence of this was that the only points scored in the last 25 minutes of the game came via a penalty goal by Richie Mo'unga. Yes, the Blues could have won the game through two disallowed tries, but they should have put it to bed with all the time they had in the 22.
The next day the Blues Women did more or less the same thing against Matatū, keeping the southerners pinned in their own half for much of the match. Case in point: Patricia Maliepo's try that was the result of 80 metres and 16 phases of work, easily the longest period of continuous possession in the entire competition.
The key fault was letting Matatū completely cash in on every slim chance they got, so much so that Cheyelle Robins-Reti helped herself to a hat trick and her team a place in next weekend's Aupiki final. But while the weekend's results end the women's season, there's still a fair way to go for the men, who have got a huge game against the Chiefs in a fortnight.
Some other observations from the weekend:
- Inconsistency - If Hoskins Sotutu's effort on Saturday night was disallowed, how on earth was Josh Moorby's try for the Hurricanes against the Blues the other week given? Not having our top refs, who were away at the Six Nations, has made a noticeable difference.
- Scott Robertson needed that - Coaching is the ultimate 'what have you done for me lately' gig, so the Crusaders' slow start to the season wasn't doing his campaign to become All Black coach any favours. The win under pressure at Eden Park was a timely reminder to the NZR board as they weigh up their impending decision about Robertson's future employment.
- Highlanders break their duck - Perth to Invercargill is a long way to go even for a journeyman team like the Force, so at least they scored 35 points in their loss to the Highlanders (who scored 43 in return). If the home side had dropped this game, though, it would probably have been time to start considering a men's version of the Matatū concept.
- The Brumbies are going about their business - The Australian hopes for a title look tied to the Brumbies, who prevailed in a track meet against Moana Pasifika. Their draw is pretty friendly on the run home, too, aside from trips to Christchurch, Wellington and a visit from the Chiefs, all their remaining games are very winnable.
- The Drua went down fighting - There were fears of a drop off by the Drua after their historic win over the Crusaders last weekend, but even though they lost to the Reds in Brisbane, they can still hold their heads high. There's a big test next weekend in Dunedin, the Drua were very poor in fixtures on NZ soil last season but this is a great chance to rectify that.
- Chiefs Manawa's set piece is the key - In the old days, a team like Matatū would simply try and injure Luka Connor early and take Manawa's top try scorer out of the equation. That's unlikely to happen in next weekend's final, but Matatū will need to concentrate a lot of effort into improving their scrum, because Manawa won't care one bit about winning that game ugly if need be.