The Blues want to distance themselves from their woeful away record.
The Blues won’t get a better chance to break their away duck this season.
One win away win won’t provide an instantaneous solution, but regardless of the opposition it could flick a mental switch and offer a path to finally move forward over this long-held hurdle.
It’s clear this year’s outfit want to distance themselves from their woeful away record, one that stands at two wins and a draw from their last 27 matches outside Auckland over the past three years.
While there’s a new management group, new structures and some notable improvements, the majority of the Blues squad that runs out against the hapless Kings in Port Elizabeth on Sunday morning (NZT) still carry the same burden on the road.
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Ofa Tu’ungafasi gets an starting opportunity ahead of Charlie Faumuina.
Thirteen of this week’s starting team played a part in their poor away run prior to this campaign. Then came defeats in Christchurch and Hamilton – and the poor draw in Brisbane this season.
So as much as they are sick of hearing about it, there’s one way to put it to bed.
With the Kings travelling back from Buenos Aires, following their 73-27 pasting against the Jaguares, there really are no excuses for Tana Umaga’s men.
After being confined to the bench, Ofa Tu’ungafasi’s elevation to start at tight head over All Blacks prop Charlie Faumuina is the only minor surprise in the starting team. As expected Melani Nanai comes in for Rieko Ioane, who along with his older brother has joined the sevens team, and Hoani Matenga takes Akira Ioane’s spot in the reserves.
Otherwise, it’s a settled team again.
The Kings only win this year came at home over the Sunwolves. The Eastern Province side are rooted at the bottom of the table after conceding 54 tries in eight matches – leaking on average almost seven tries per-week.
Mauled. Dominated. Smashed; they’re all headlines used to describe their recent losses.
From the get go the Kings have been dogged by financial woes, with the South African Rugby Union forced to step in and run the team after players and staff were owed up to four months’ salary.
Coaches and players left, lawsuits were filed, preparations compromised, and Super Rugby was left with an unacceptable rabble of a team.
The upshot is the Blues should canter to a comfortable victory, though that’s not the way they are thinking.
“There’s no place in this competition for any complacency,” Blues assistant coach Glenn Moore said. “We’re really focused on the job at hand.”
In these situations it is more about the expectation the Blues put on themselves.
Don’t drop to the Kings level; stick to their patterns, be committed in everything they do and show some patience and the rest should take care of itself.
Too often this year we’ve seen patches of brilliance and application squandered by lapses in concentration. The Blues remain a work-in-progress.
No more was that evident than against the Rebels last week. Umaga felt comfortable enough with a 20 point second half lead to empty the bench. That faith looked misplaced when the Blues were forced to desperately defend a maul on their own line to protect a six-point buffer with two minutes remaining, scraping home in the finish and blowing a crucial bonus point.
Anything close to a complete performance has eluded them this year. More than the scoreboard or how many tries they run in, keeping their foot on the throat and being clinical throughout will be a major goal this week.
“That’s the $100 question,” Moore said of playing for 80 minutes. “There are parts of our game getting better each week and it’s just about being consistent.
“How far away that is, I’m not sure. We’re definitely making progress and there’s certainly a real will within the team to win and play well.”
BLUES: Lolagi Visinia, Melani Nanai, George Moala, Piers Francis, Tevita Li, Ihaia West, Bryn Hall; Steven Luatua, Tanerau Latimer, Jerome Kaino, Josh Bekhuis, Patrick Tuipulotu, Ofa Tu’ungafasi, James Parsons (captain), Sam Prattley. Reserves: Matt Moulds, Nic Mayhew, Charlie Faumuina, Hoani Matenga, Kara Pryor, Billy Guyton, Matt McGahan, Male Sa’u
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Blues drop Charlie Faumuina to the bench in five changes made for Kings clash