Blues star Rieko Ioane is adamant there is no mental barrier holding his side back against rival Kiwi opposition, saying their woeful record in New Zealand derbies can instead be attributed to poor execution in key moments.
The Blues will look to end a run of outs against New Zealand opposition when they host the Chiefs in Auckland on Friday, their recent record of just one win in 21 Kiwi conference contests amplified by the fact they are winless in their past 12 matches against the Waikato side.
Rieko Ioane Courtesy of Johnny Bigg
Already this season they have let slip leads over the Highlanders and Crusaders, while back-rower Steven Luatua suffered a momentary brain fade in the earlier meeting with the Chiefs when he collected Tim Nanai-Williams in an ugly high-tackle and was promptly red-carded.
But Ioane, who sits in equal third on the Super Rugby try-scoring chart with eight, played down suggestions that his side continually struck a mental wall when lining up against their local rivals.
The Waratahs head across to New Zealand to face the Highlanders looking to end a year-long run of Australian outs against Kiwi opposition. It looks a forlorn task, but a touch of positive thinking can go a long way — Greg Growden writes.
Crusaders fly-half Richie Mo’unga has backed calls for more Super Rugby games to be played in the Pacific Islands having sampled the “unreal” experience in Fiji last weekend.
“Obviously we’ve struggled over time with the New Zealand teams, but I don’t think it’s a mental thing,” he told ESPN. “It’s just comes down to ourselves again and letting ourselves go in those key situations. [It’s] not so much mental, I mean the boys train hard and we prep to play as hard as any other team. I think it comes down to a bit of execution and a bit of skill, more than anything.”
Another problem for the Blues has been their tendency to float in and out of games.
Last week’s loss to the Stormers certainly wasn’t short on controversy, but after leading for most of the first 60 minutes the Blues then saw Matt Duffie red-carded and lost 30-22. Two weeks earlier, the Blues led the Waratahs 40-12 before completely taking their foot off the pedal as they held on for a 40-33 win.
Rieko Ioane runs away for the first of his three tries for the Blues against the Melbourne Rebels. Photo by Robert Prezioso/Getty Images
The lack of consistency isn’t lost on Ioane.
“I think with combos going in and out there’s been a bit of disruption, with players coming in and out there’s always going to be a bit of that,” he told ESPN of the Blues’ topsy-turvy season. “But it’s more just on ourselves, we play good in patches but then again patches isn’t going to win you games and win you tournaments.
“So we just need to get a bit of consistency and, when we get that, I believe that, with the footy and the brand that we play, that the group of boys that we have will come right soon.”
In his second season at the Blues, coach Tana Umaga is staring down another campaign without finals football. Trailing the Highlanders by 10 points in the race for the third wildcard in the Australasian conference, the Blues will likely need to win all of their final three games and hope the southerners slip up.
Given each of the other four franchises have won the title since the Blues’ last championship in 2003, there is no shortage of expectation in the New Zealand’s biggest market. Still, Ioane is adamant Umaga is the right man to pilot the Blues going forward.
Tana Umaga Ashley Vlotman/Gallo Images via Getty Images
“He’s awesome, he’s the best coach that I’ve had,” Ioane told ESPN. He’s obviously just out the back of retirement so he knows exactly how to relate with the players and all the other boys especially.
“And he’s grown his game from last year, just the way he coaches, his methods, his game plan; so onwards and upwards he’ll definitely get better and it’s exciting times for the Blues and myself.”
www.espn.co.uk – RUGBY