Kirwan remains positive despite Blues loss
Defiantly optimistic, Sir John Kirwan believes his Blues can still make the Super Rugby playoffs, despite crashing to a fourth straight competition defeat in Durban yesterday.
Kirwan's Blues were pipped at the post 22-20 by a last-minute try to Sharks fullback Riaan Viljoen, but picked up their 12th bonus point of the season to somehow stay in the playoff hunt.
With the Cheetahs thrashed 28-3 by the Stormers in Cape Town, the Blues can still make the top six if they win their last two matches - against the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein next weekend and then at home to the Chiefs in the final round of the regular season.
The Blues (44 points, 8th) are in a five-way race for the sixth and final playoff spot, along with the sixth-placed Cheetahs (46pts), Waratahs (44), Sharks (42) and Stormers 42.
"The boys are very disappointed," said Kirwan yesterday. "We couldn't get a break in the first half. We wanted to start well, and obviously that didn't happen.
"I was really proud of the guys because the game was going against us but we stayed disciplined and hung in there. Then in the second half we did enough to win, and we felt we were pretty hard done by late in the game when a couple of calls went against us.
"For the first time this season I can say we deserved to win and we didn't. The only positive is the Cheetahs have lost so we're still alive."
The Blues looked in trouble at the halftime break as the Sharks rumbled to a 17-5 lead on the back of tries to Marcell Coetzee and Charl McLeod via driving mauls off the lineout. With the home scrum dominant and their big pack ominous, the New Zealanders were hanging on by a thread.
"I just said to them sometimes things go like that," added Kirwan. "We just couldn't get a break. We held the ball once in the first half and scored a try. We couldn't do anything right and the game was against us.
"I told them we needed to be more disciplined, and hang on to the football. That's what we did in the second half. We hung on to the ball, worked around the field and we probably played the better of the two teams if you summed up the 80 minutes."
The Blues looked like they had recovered brilliantly when they worked into a 20-17 lead late in the game, as Frank Halai crossed for his second try, replacement Rene Ranger darted across from a ruck near the line, and a Baden Kerr penalty nudged the visitors in front.
But then just when they needed to close things out, the Blues allowed their hosts to snatch the late winner as they attacked via a quick lineout throw. "I don't know who knocked the ball out, but the ref probably should have slowed that down. A couple of things didn't go our way, but that's just the game," noted Kirwan.
But the coach remained optimistic that a big result could be achieved against the Cheetahs to set up a huge finale at Eden Park.
"The boys are heading in the right direction. Yeah, it was tough up front, but we've got an incredible group of guys who are saying we're going to learn from this and keep moving on. It's not a loss for us, it's just a learning.
"I think we're really starting something special. It's our 12th bonus point, and we're still alive. There's heaps of learnings for these young guys and we just need to keep working hard, be more intelligent in important moments and put these games to bed."
First five Chris Noakes (thigh) was the main injury worry, though Kirwan was hopeful All Black Keven Mealamu would be able to shake off his calf problems to front against the Cheetahs.
Sharks 22 (Marcell Coetzee, Charl McLeod, Riaan Viljoen tries; Pat Lambie pen, 2 cons), Blues 20 (Frank Halai 2, Rene Ranger tries; Chris Noakes con; Baden Kerr pen). Ht: 17-5.