Blues push Lions towards wooden spoon
The Blues scored a try off the last move of the game in their 25-3 win at Eden Park in Auckland on Friday that just about summed up the 2012 Vodacom Super Rugby season for the MTN Lions.
The Lions' scrum, as had been the case for much of the last quarter of a match which showed why the two teams were on the basement of the log, got the go-forward and forced the Blues unit to back-pedal.
But home skipper Luke Braid gained possession and, against the human tide forcing against him, somehow switched the momentum so that it was he who touched down as his forwards swarmed him over the line.
The result lifted the Blues off the bottom rung of the ladder and they deserved their three-try to nil triumph, but it is debatable as to just how happy they will be when they watch the tape of the game afterwards.
Both sides made way too many mistakes, and while the Blues dominated possession and territory for most of the match, they struggled to make the headway that the dominance demanded.
The Blues were too lateral on attack, there were too many forwards hanging in the backline, and at times they were too rushed – probably understandably given the long sequence of defeats since they last won, which was in the match against the Bulls in Pretoria way back in March.
But even given all those drawbacks, the hosts were still significantly better than the Lions, who started positively from the kick-off and quickly transferred play into the Blues' 22 before dominating the first six minutes, which they spent camped in the Blues’ half. They converted that advantage into three points with an Elton Jantjies penalty in the sixth minute.
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However the Lions faded quickly after that in a first half where they did well to be just 10-3 down at halftime.
The only try of the half was scored in the 17th minute, with Michael Hobbs capitalising on some indiscipline in the Lions’ defensive alignment by going through a gap from 15 metres out to score a five-pointer that was converted by flyhalf Gareth Anscombe.
The Blues spent a lot of time camped in Lions territory after that, and the South Africans weren’t helped by a continuation of the lineout problems they have battled with all season. Indeed, this was the one area where the Blues came out tops where in previous matches they themselves had struggled.
But a combination of ineffective Blues finishing, with a tendency for players to run into positions where they were isolated from support, and good Lions scramble defence kept them from scoring the try that would put them more than a score ahead.
Instead they had to rely on another Anscombe penalty to stretch the lead to seven, which was the advantage they enjoyed at the break.
The only real possible scoring opportunity enjoyed by the Lions was when Andries Coetzee intercepted to halt a good Blues build-up and made a good run upfield only for the chance to die when he couldn’t find any support.
The Lions were also helped in that first half by the Blues’ indiscipline, something that Braid’s men improved on considerably in the second half.
It didn’t take them long to get some reward for their territory game after halftime, Anscombe, who had missed a kick before the break, making up for it by being on target with a kick from much nearer the posts.
The 10-point buffer should have given the Blues greater confidence as they went in search of a rare win, but although they were dominating the game, they could only add a try to Alby Matthewson, who came on for the excellent Piri Weepu.
The Matthewson try was created by a good break from Laiki Moli, but by then, at a stage just beyond the 50th minute, the Lions were down to 14 men after wing Deon van Rensburg was binned after the Lions were warned for repeated infringements.
The introduction of CJ van der Linde seemed to galvanise the Lions' scrum, while replacements to the Blues' scrum took some of the power out of theirs, and the Lions can look back on some of the big scrums put in after the hour mark as the highlight of an otherwise disappointing game for them.
Their inability to take the ball beyond five phases at any stage of the game, a feature of their memorable Currie Cup triumph last year, should be top of their list of concerns as they continue into the dark tunnel they have been travelling towards all season.
Blues – Tries: Michael Hobbs, Alby Mathewson, Luke Braid. Conversions: Gareth Anscombe (2). Penalties: Anscombe (2).
MTN Lions – Penalty: Elton Jantjies.