Baby Blues given licence to thrill
March 2, 2013
The Blues' Francis Saili fends off Dan Carter in the upset at Eden Park. © Getty Images
The Blues are quickly proving that youth and inexperience isn't necessarily a disadvantage, proving the pundits wrong with a second upset win to start their Super Rugby season.
With a backline that boasts an average age of just 21, last year's cellar dwellers were tipped to struggle in 2013. But Friday night's 34-15 dismantling of the Crusaders caught even coach Sir John Kirwan by 'surprise'.
Captain Ali Williams explained that rookies such as leading try-scorer Frank Halai (4) are playing to their full potential thanks to a healthy environment that makes them feel comfortable to take risks.
"It's just [about] encouraging them and giving them the freedom to know that whatever decision they make, we as a team will make it the right decision," Williams said.
"We're all human, we're all going to make mistakes but it's about what the other 14 guys do around you to make it not as big a mistake or turn it into a positive."
Halai, 24, asked the massive question of why it had taken so long to be called up for Super Rugby duty with another two-try haul after doing so against the Hurricanes last week.
He was quick to deflect praise instead pointing to second-five Francis Saili, who tormented the Crusaders line in tandem with Rene Ranger, but said he didn't feel any pressure under the bright lights of Eden Park.
"Our coach just tells us to go out there and have a go. Some of the guys are good at running with the ball; we just work off them," Halai said.
"All the senior players just tell us to have a go, if we make mistakes we'll just learn from it and keep going."
As exciting as the Blues were on attack, there were ominous signs early in the match as the Crusaders counter-rucked with good effect and often turned over possession.
Kirwan said his side's expansive style of play was risky, but his players were fully committed to it and would only execute with more accuracy as the season progressed.
"If we want to play an expansive game then sometimes we're going to get turned over and put ourselves under the pump," Kirwan said.
"But late when George [Moala] scored we took that risk and it came off so it's a balance that we need to find."
Kirwan's only other concern was the 10 points they failed to secure through Piri Weepu's four failed attempts at goal with the boot.
He revealed that first-choice kicker Chris Noakes pulled up "tight" after the pre-game warm-up, giving Weepu minimal time to prepare.
Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder made no excuses for what was a flat performance from his men, who appeared to have suffered from a two-week delay to the start of their season.
"We're not going to hide behind excuses. We made a lot of errors, we didn't quite execute as well as we would have liked and were forced into mistakes and they capitalised on them," he said.
"But there is a little bit of rust there I have to say but I thought that there was a sense of urgency that the Blues had which we didn't have tonight and they thoroughly deserved their win."
The Blues prepare for their next game against the Bulls at Eden Park next Sunday.
Highlights from the Blues' upset over the Crusaders at Eden Park.