After two weeks, Blues fans have settled nicely back into their routine with a eye catching first up win over the Highlanders followed up by a stinker of a loss down in Canterbury. Two performances from opposite ends of the spectrum you could say and this routine is never a positive routine, however with this Blues side it can't really be viewed as a negative either.
Many folk, especially in the kiwi media who apparently know lots and lots about rugby are scratching their heads regarding Tana Umaga's selections and the fortunes of the Blues in the two weeks that we have seen from them. Myself, well I'm happy rolling with the Blues and their adventures as Umaga and his crew are starting from the bottom, to expect the Blues to come out of the kiwi division and contend for a Super Rugby title this season is a bit unrealistic. I'll keep repeating this narrative for as long as I have to - Umaga is rebuilding the Blues, which takes time, especially when the majority of the Blues squad are still settling into their Super Rugby careers.
While the Crusaders have reinvigorated their roster, with young guys like Richie Mo'unga stepping up, they have a gritty culture instilled in them. There's solid leaders who have played under the same coach for numerous seasons and there's a comfort in their style of play thanks to consistency, this isn't reflected by the Blues. The Blues are still trying to develop a culture, Umaga is still trying to figure out his best team and there are still signature elements of their style to establish.
The Blues' situation simply isn't evident in any other kiwi Super Rugby team.
It all started in the forwards, as is usually the case in rugby. A front-row of Joe Moody, Codie Taylor and Owen Franks should dominate a Blues' front-row of Ofa Tu'ungafasi, Quentin MacDonald and Sione Mafileo every day of the week. After a great game last week, Blake Gibson could only muster a single carry and missed the most tackles of any Blues player with 5. This is the sort of inconsistency often seen in young players and it reflects where the Blues are at, as long as their squad is made up of young blokes still trying to establish themselves, there will be many ups and downs.
Last week I compared Lolagi Visinia to All Black Ben Smith, this week it's Steven Luatua vs All Black Kieran Read. As always, Read was immense with a try, 13 carries, 22 metres and his involvement in the Crusaders' pack was only matched by Jordan Taufua's 10 carries for 48 metres, all while Luatua could only manage 2 carries for 7 metres.
Luatua hasn't been overly good in two games this season, with this mediocre display coming on the back of 6 carries for 4 metres against the Highlanders. He hasn't been busy at lineout time either, which is odd as you'd think playing Luatua at No.8 would give the Blues an arsenal of lineout options. So far this season Luatua has won 3 lineouts, the same number Jerome Kaino won against the Crusaders.
The Crusaders' loose-forward trio combined for 89 running metres, while the Blues' combined for 27.
Coming to any dramatic conclusions regarding the Blues backline after this game is silly, not when the Crusaders' forward pack were so dominant, which doesn't leave us any wiser about the play-making combination of Matt McGahan and Billy Guyton. Off the top, I prefer Ihaia West and Bryn Hall, however I wouldn't be surprised if Umaga gives McGahan and Guyton another chance some time soon when the forwards might be doing their job.
A mark of any good first-five is their ability to run, which then sets up opportunities to kick and pass. McGahan didn't run the ball once, whereas Mo'unga ran 9 times for 77 metres and a try, which again came on the back of a Crusaders pack who were rolling forward, but McGahan didn't even manage a single snipe and that's a worry.
Also worrying were 7 missed tackles from George Moala (4) and Rene Ranger (3). That means that the Crusaders were presented with some sort of opportunity to break the line, get quick ball or offload far too often in the midfield. Kieron Fonotia and Sean Wainui didn't miss a single tackle and didn't present the Blues with the same chances. The Blues won't have too many problems scoring points when they are enjoying equality in the forwards, defence is the sign of a good team though and the Blues' defensive effort sums up their current position.
I was hopeful heading into this game, however we can't expect this Blues team to be playing their best footy each week. To just compete with other kiwi teams and to continually improve, the Blues will need guys like Luatua who are now experienced players in this team to lead the way, pulling the younger blokes with them as opposed to leaving them out in the cold.