Mauled Blues side frustrate coach John Kirwan
A frustrated Sir John Kirwan is demanding a desperation factor from his Blues players as their Super Rugby campaign hit a reality check yesterday.
A week after crunching the Crusaders in Auckland, the Blues were mauled 38-22 by the Bulls in Pretoria.
They now have one win from three matches and are tangled in a desperate chase of the Chiefs in the New Zealand conference, while slipping down the overall table, too.
Desperation was a key word from Kirwan as he looked to regather the team for next weekend's tricky assignment against the Lions in Johannesburg.
Just as they had done in the opening loss to the Highlanders and in the opening half hour against the Crusaders, the Blues were guilty of not showing up early against the Bulls.
They were trailing 25-12 at the break and lucky to be that close with only the faultless boot of rookie first-five Simon Hickey keeping them in the game.
"It seems as though we are only getting desperate when we are in a really desperate situation in these games," a puzzled Kirwan said.
"We just can't allow to keep giving teams starts like we are. We need to start with a little more desperation from the opening whistle. We gave away 21 points through our own errors and that's unacceptable.
"It looked like we were in slow motion in the first half and we needed some energy.
"We came back into the match in the second half and gave ourselves a chance to steal it, but we couldn't manage that."
Certainly three of the Bulls' four tries came through some alarmingly soft Blues defence. The tackle bags are sure to be out this week with 91 points conceded in three matches.
They were also guilty of giving away some cheap penalties and paid the price on the high veldt where goalkicking plays such a huge part.
"After the game I asked the guys: did we get beaten or did we lose? We all felt we lost this match ourselves and that's very frustrating."
There were some plusses for the Blues. Their lineout was far more functional and loose forwards Steven Luatua and Luke Braid were huge against the massive Bulls pack.
But the scrum had its wobbles, including conceding the opening try after losing a tighthead.
All Blacks hooker Keven Mealamu was withdrawn from the game, suffering a tight calf muscle, a problem he as a history with.
Kirwan was hopeful Mealamu would be fit to front the Lions at Ellis Park, where he expected his team to confront a similar approach to what they encountered yesterday.
"Their forwards are brutal, they have good defence ... the Lions will be no different. We have to be ready for that and cut out our errors."
While Hickey was guilty of being absent in a couple of tries, the 20-year-old certainly confirmed his promise in Pretoria.
A week after his impressive debut against the Crusaders, he looked composed against the Bulls.
"His kicking was 100 per cent and I think this was affirmation for us that he has got what it takes. He kept us in touch," Kirwan said.
But, the coach emphasised, "keeping in touch" doesn't win matches. He wants his team to be setting the pace from the start.