Before this Blues v Highlanders fixture, the Blues had won just one match against Kiwi opposition in the current World Cup cycle. To turn the tide they would need to use some very smart tactics and force the Highlanders to play their game. In this article, we will answer the burning question of just how the Blues pulled this off.
As explained in our Highlanders article, this game was all about exit plays.
How the Blues Manufactured Their Best Case Scenario | Blues v Highlanders
The Blues have a very specific goal in mind when they kick off, which we will return to soon. The first step is to kick off deep. Below is a good example of that.
This deep kick gives the Highlanders time and space to kick for touch, as evident in how far away the nearest defender is. They are daring the opposition to kick for touch.
The Highlanders fall into the trap and kick it straight out.
This sets up what the Blues were hoping for all along; a lineout in the Highlanders half.
Why do they want this? Because the Blues are becoming a deadly set-piece team. They would score two tries in this game that stemmed from lineouts in this area.
Time and time again the Blues would encourage the Highlanders to kick the ball out, before dealing swift punishment. This tactic becomes more evident below.
How the Blues are Becoming a Strike-Move Team | Blues v Highlanders
As the match entered the second half the Blues switched up their kick off. They would kick shallow in a vintage Dan Carter-esque manner and try to regain possession. If this didn’t work out, they would still work to get a lineout in Highlanders territory.
Below they try a shallow kick off.
The Highlanders don’t like playing in their own half, so they kick. the Blues now get the ball back in their own half, which isn’t ideal. They need to find a way to get the lineout they want. After a few careful phases, Plummer kicks deep to Ben Smith (yellow circle).
Smith has no real choice but to kick it out.
Once again the Blues have their desired outcome, and you’re about to see why. This is an area of the game they can dominate.
Earlier in the game, they managed to score from first-phase off a lineout. This one would take slightly longer, but you can see how their first try unfolded below.
They start with a couple of crash balls, which keeps the Highlanders defence thin on the far side.
The Blues now bring their speedsters into the fold. Faiane breaks, and Nanai scores. This was all built from the earlier lineout that was so expertly set up.
These lineout moves were great, but the final nail in the Highlanders coffin was the Blues incredible turnaround in game management.
The Blues Game Management Success | Blues v Highlanders
In the final 10 minutes, the Blues were behind and looked to be extending their winless record against Kiwi sides. In the 72nd minute, finally, the pin dropped.
The Blues would attack for 18 straight phases, flat out refusing to lose again. The reward would soon come with a try from Tuipulotu.
Now, all the Blues had to do was hold onto the ball and grind down the clock. Their no.9 Ruru plays it smart by leaving the ball in this scrum, before swinging a pass wide to Ma’a Nonu who makes a great run. The Blues are now making good pressure decisions, and Nonu is finally warming up in Super Rugby.
The Blues have broken the drought against Kiwi sides, but do you any hope their season can be salvaged? Are they improving at all under coach Leon MacDonald? Let us know your thoughts down below.
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