Kirwan accepts blame for Blues' loss to Bulls
Blues coach Sir John Kirwan had his hand up the highest when the blame was being apportioned for his side's first defeat of this Super Rugby season.
The Blues were beaten 28-21 by a typically efficient and muscular Bulls side in front of 25,112 fans in gloriously sunny conditions at Eden Park yesterday.
Less luminous was Kirwan's disposition regarding a contest he felt his team had not been ready for.
"I didn't think we performed," said Kirwan after the Bulls ran in three tries to two to stretch their unbeaten start to the season to three.
"We didn't play what we trained all week so it was very disappointing. The only thing we really salvaged from the game was a bonus point, so it was pretty poor really."
Not that Kirwan was looking to point the finger too far from where he was sitting at the end of a pretty poor weekend for Kiwi teams in the competition.
The Hurricanes were the only winners and the Highlanders and Blues both lost at home against ruthless South African opponents.
"Consistency of performance is about consistency of preparation and I'll take responsibility for that," added Kirwan whose "better never stops" mantra hit a bit of a brick wall this week.
"We made some changes and we trained probably not as well as we could have all week. I'll cop that on the chin."
Indeed, Kirwan admitted that with the benefit of hindsight his six changes to his starting lineup probably contributed to a Blues performance lacking the rhythm of the first two weeks.
"I need to take responsibility for that. I don't regret it but it could have had an impact on how we performed," said a coach intent on sending a clear message to his players.
A 76th-minute try to Rene Ranger briefly raised the home team's hopes of a comeback victory as they closed to 21-25, but some poor executions from the restart and an 80th-minute penalty to Morne Steyn sealed the Bulls' first ever victory on Eden Park
.It was nothing new, nothing the Blues wouldn't have been expecting from the Bulls, who controlled the tempo of the game through their outstanding pack and denied their hosts the possession platforms they had feasted on over the previous fortnight.
With No 8 Pierre Spies leading a fine loose forward trio and the back three of Zane Kirchner, Akona Ndungane and Lione Mapoe enjoying perfect conditions, the visitors had much the better of proceedings.
Tries to wings Mapoe and Ndungane put the Bulls up 15-6 at the break. They were both crisply executed as the South Africans did well to win quality possession and then were good enough to make it count.
The Blues rattled off 10 straight points inside the first quarter of an hour of the second spell to lead 16-15 on the back of Baden Kerr's third penalty and a very well-taken try by fullback Charles Piutau wide on the left.
But that just steeled the Bulls.
Three minutes later flanker Arno Botha crossed wide on the left, after another fabulous break up the middle by Ndungane, and when Morne Steyn added his second penalty soon after the South Africans led 25-16.The pendulum swung back to the Blues, when Bulls halfback Jano Vermaak just lost the ball as he reached for the line, and soon after Ranger finished brilliantly down the right touchline.
But that's when the Blues needed to be clinical. Instead Steven Luatua was bundled into touch from the restart and it was left to Steyn to have the final say with his boot.
"We weren't great at the simple things and it cost us," said skipper Ali Williams afterwards. "I felt we lacked some real spark. I'm pretty pissed off at how we played.
"It's about sticking to what we train and what we're good at which is running the ball and using our ball-runners and patterns. We just didn't do it, and that's the disappointing part."
The Blues now have a bye to reassess. By the sounds of it they've got plenty to think about.
At Eden Park:
Bulls 28 (Lionel Mapoe, Akpona Ndugane, Arno Botha tries; Morne Steyn 3 pens 2 cons),
Blues 21 (Charles Piutau, Rene Ranger tries; Baden Kerr 3 pens, con). Ht: 15-6.