Singing the Blues: A tale of missed opportunities
When the Blues reflect on this inconsistent campaign, a sense of frustration will prevail.
On the surface positivity remains about registering a remarkable 38-point win over the Chiefs at Eden Park tonight. Just below the surface, though, players and management realise their best chance at the playoffs were blown some time ago.
Ultimately, the early-season 39-36 loss to the Lions in Johannesburg will haunt them.
Unless they pull off a miracle tonight, that defeat, and prolonged mental issues with failing to win away from home, will be the difference between progress and perceived stagnation this year.
The Blues can point to a shocking TMO decision against the Lions, but their first-half meltdown was more costly. It's these missed opportunities, which left their finals hopes to chance, that separate contenders from the rest in this ruthless competition.
''The Lions game especially comes back to haunt us; maybe the one point against the Highlanders,'' Blues coach Sir John Kirwan said in reference to missing a bonus point in the opening-round Dunedin loss.
''Part of the growth of this team is to understand those moments when they're around. We knew we had to come back from Africa with at least one win. And it'll be no different next year.
''For us it's about consistency right across the season and urgency at the right times. Those games come back to haunt you, for sure.
''We'll debrief that at the end of the season. We spoke about it at the time. The Highlanders, we missed a kick so we drop that, but the Lions was about work ethic and preparation.''
Victory over the defending champions would signal Kirwan's side are, indeed, on the improve. And, unlike the end of last season, at least they haven't lost the last six on the trot.
But if the Blues are serious about all-out attack in challenging conditions to pursue their unlikely playoff dream, such endeavour could play directly into the desperate Chiefs' hands.
''It's one of those things that's exciting rather than a tall order,'' Kirwan claimed of his side's quest.
''The Chiefs have lost by that [amount] this year. If there's a rugby team that can produce four tries, it's us.''
Contrastingly, with Aaron Cruden finding his groove, Davie Rennie's outfit can adopt the patient and pragmatic approach in the knowledge a win alone will be enough to see them through. Initially at least, there's no doubt which scenario is preferred.
''We put ourselves in this position but if anything the boys have a lot of belief that we can do this,'' Charles Piutau, back in his favoured fullback role, said.
The injury losses of All Blacks prop Tony Woodcock and captain Luke Braid don't aid the cause, however. Woodcock in particular could have targeted a Chiefs' scrum that's been exposed this year.
Ma'a Nonu, playing his final game for the Blues before moving back to the Hurricanes, and Francis Saili, should have an edge in the midfield, but it's hard to see that translating into a truly astonishing rout.
BLUES: Charles Piutau, Lolagi Visinia/George Moala, Francis Saili, Ma'a Nonu, Tevita Li, Ihaia West, Bryn Hall, Jerome Kaino, Brendon O'Connor, Steven Luatua, Tom Donnelly, Patrick Tuipulotu, Charlie Faumuina, Keven Mealamu (c), Sam Pratley Reserves: James Parsons, Ofa Tu'ungafasi, Angus Ta'avao, Hayden Triggs, Peter Saili, Jamison Gibson-Park, Jackson Willison, George Moala/Albert Nikoro.