Having planned my weekend of Super Rugby, the game of the final round for me was the Hurricanes-Crusaders contest and I really wasn’t concerned about any other fixture. I have to say I didn’t tune to see the Blues go down to the Sunwolves.
I thought that one was going to be all one-way traffic and a foregone conclusion, so I just about choked when I saw what had happened and that they hadn’t blown the Sunwolves away. That meant that just out of interest I had to go back and watch some of the replays to see just what had transpired.
But wow, it really showed what has hindered the Blues for a number of years: their frailty and a lack of concentration.
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You can’t take any game for granted – which they obviously did in this case – and they’ve really undone a whole season of positives, especially their last game against the British & Irish Lions. A win on top of that performance would have been a nice way to send off some old mates.
Everyone knows that old cliché which all players utter at some stage during the season that any team is capable of beating another on a given day. But at the same time everyone knows in sport there is a certain element of preparation that goes into a game. And, clearly, if you don’t have that preparation then you’re not going to perform at the top level.
Playing in the high-30s in the middle of the Japanese summer wouldn’t be easy but you work around that, you know what is coming and you deal with it. I was shocked.
Without being negative, and it is hard not to be, there’s Sean Fitzpatrick’s old saying about the rock under your towel on the beach over summer, well this should be a boulder under the Blues’ players’ towels. And there’s a long, long time before they can get any redemption for finishing on that note.
Michael Collins Matt Roberts/Getty Images
It’s a mental thing that is wrong at the Blues at the moment, they’re in a fragile head space. That sort of blowout would never happen to the Crusaders. Being under-prepared mentally is just no excuse for a Super Rugby team. Yes it was the last game of the season and there was nothing but competition points resting on it. But they still had their season to play for – a season when they had made some gains, and then they were seeing off their mates, too, and should have been determined to finish the season on a high.
No matter what the odds are, and when you are the favourite, you have still got to prepare mentally. I suppose coach Tana Umaga, when looking at his recruitment, needs someone with a tough edge to come in and steel the other guys because I think that has been the soft underbelly of the Blues for a long time. And opposing teams know that.
The Blues now have a long off-season to address that issue.
By comparison, the Hurricanes-Crusaders game was a great spectacle. It got off to a really good start and there was some champagne rugby played across the 80 minutes.
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While Super Rugby is a comedown from what we had in the previous weeks with the Lions series, and ahead of the forthcoming Rugby Championship, that was a good local derby to fill in the gap until we can get the championship started.
The June break showed that Super Rugby is broken. The Hurricanes were the side who had the least time between their game against the Lions and the resumption of the competition, and it showed.
Super Rugby is spectacular during its middle stages when we get some great games but for it to drag on to this point and still be playing pool games is poor. I know they are trying to fix it by reducing numbers but it needs some serious attention.
There’s no doubt the Crusaders have missed an opportunity to go through unbeaten. However, the defending champions, the Hurricanes, were always going to represent a tough contest in their final regular season game. Of all the games to finish on, the Hurricanes at home would be one of the harder assignments they could have faced. The Hurricanes stepped up when they needed to and they deserved to get the win. Their backline hummed on Saturday night, and that was despite Beauden Barrett’s late withdrawal.
Nehe Milner-Skudder (L) passes to Jordie Barrett Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images
Going into the quarterfinals, we can talk about preparation and the top two inches but that shouldn’t be an issue because you just don’t button off in finals.
I’m sure the Hurricanes will turn up with the right attitude and with that in mind they should be too good for the Brumbies. But at the same time they can never take it for granted and that should be the big Blues reminder as an example to each of the remaining New Zealand teams – they need to get everything right.
It’s a tough ask for the Chiefs in South Africa. The travel factor is there but they need to get their heads around that. It is the second time the Chiefs have travelled there this year – they lost the first time. Then there’s the fact the game is a repeat of last year’s quarterfinal which saw the Chiefs put 60 points on the Stormers. The South Africans will be wanting to show that they are better than that this time around. They’ll be sitting there waiting.
And no-one really wanted the Crusaders-Highlanders playoff but that is the result of the Crusaders’ loss to the Hurricanes. They’ve got to face their neighbours but at least they’re on home soil. It’s a shame as both teams are capable of taking out the competition; but one of them is not going to. It’s a final in itself – a mouth-watering game and a tough one to call. It should be the game of the weekend.
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