Kirwan urges Blues to learn from loss
After being struck with some cold realities on a wintry night in Christchurch, Sir John Kirwan's young Blues outfit must now prove that they're quick learners.
Kirwan has tagged his team's three-week run-in before the June test break a pivotal part of the campaign.
Following a 23-3 dismantling by a Crusaders side rumbling back into ominous form at AMI Stadium on Saturday night, the Blues understand that the correction must come this week.
The problem is the Blues host the dangerous ACT Brumbies at Eden Park on Saturday night, with the Australian side also coming off a defeat at the hands of the Waratahs in Sydney.
"The Brumbies at home is another big game," said Kirwan.
"If we can keep moving in the right direction scrum and lineout wise ... we just need to keep confident and make sure we learn from this. We've got to win next week. We've got two weeks before the break and we need to get some points."
The Blues are still well and truly in the race, on 41 competition points. They are third in the competitive Kiwi conference, but sixth overall and still control their own destiny.
But there's no doubt Kirwan's youthful group received a lesson in controlled aggression and playing the percentages from the Crusaders on a difficult night for up-tempo football.
"They were great learnings for us," said Kirwan afterwards. "A charge-down try and a maul try was probably the difference. They strangled us a wee bit so we come away saying we think our scrum took a step forward but we didn't have the ball in the second half.
"For 20 minutes we had one ruck. They pinned us down in our half and lived off our mistakes. It's great learnings and we need to pick ourselves up for next week."
In terms of those lessons, Kirwan felt they were all about game management and execution.
"We've got to have the ability to play field position when it's time to do that. Our kicking game needed to get us out of trouble and didn't. We couldn't get hold of the ball, and there was a little bit of ill-discipline too. It just kept mounting.
"I didn't think it was anything spectacular, the difference was they just ground us down."
Kirwan also felt his team was a bit hard done by with one or two crucial decisions.
He thought the sinbinning of lock Culum Retallick at the end of the first half for a deliberate knockdown was too harsh, and also that Frank Halai should have been awarded a try just past the three-quarter mark.
"There were a couple of interesting TMO decisions. I spoke to Culum and he said there was no way he was trying to do that. A little bit of common-sense was maybe needed there. Then the try was a bit of bad luck. I thought he scored it.
"We didn't have the rub of the green at all. They played very disciplined and didn't do anything that surprised us. We just didn't deal with it."
The coach, though, was ecstatic with the way his young props Tim Perry and Angus Ta'avao dealt with their immense challenge at scrum time, and felt his lineout was "competitive".
"The difference was they kicked us down into our half, and we probably lost the kicking battle. So we got stuck in our half and didn't get out as well as should have.
"There was a charge-down try and before we know it we're 13-3 down and under the pump. In the second half we needed something special early, didn't get it, and didn't get the try late. But I'm really proud -- they didn't give up and kept trying."