Reinforcements set to boost blundering Blues

LIAM NAPIER
Last updated 07:07 17/03/2014
Ma'a Nonu
PETER MEECHAM/Fairfax Media
NONU RETURN: The Blues will hope high-profile reinforcements can turn around their slumping season.

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The Blues will hope high-profile reinforcements can turn around their slumping season and stop a worrying trend of gifting opposition unreachable leads.

Ma'a Nonu and Jerome Kaino are certain to return to this week, but their respective physical presence and experience will mean nothing unless the Blues change consistent bad habits.

Yesterday's 39-36 loss to the Lions in Johannesburg – the Blues' first against the South African franchise for eight years – was the third week in succession John Kirwan's side fell too far behind.

Kirwan plans to challenge Sanzar referees' boss Lyndon Bray after the Blues by copped a controversial TMO decision in the second half.

Ultimately, though, the visitors only had themselves to blame after giving up a 23-point lead and conceding two yellow cards before finally clicking into gear.

"Playing with 14 men is tough, then the TMO call was wrong," Kirwan said of the strange decision where Charles Piutau was ruled to have knocked the ball back.

"The TMO call was interesting at the best. It's general play. I'll be asking Lyndon Bray for a very strong verification. It came at a critical time when we were starting to flow. That's disappointing."

Five tries in a lethal 30-minute period highlighted the Blues' firepower which was evident in their comeback victory over the Crusaders two weeks ago.

But the concerning 1-3 record suggests they need to stop relying on their ability to score quick points and, instead, challenge from the opening whistle.

"We're getting ourselves in situations that are just about impossible to get out of," Kirwan said.

"Then we come screaming back and just about pull off what would have been an outstanding victory.

"There's a repeat of a lot of the mistakes we've been making since the beginning of the tournament. After 30 minutes we were going OK without actually scoring then a yellow card and a couple of quick tries before halftime and we're under the pump.

"I don't know if it's a slow start, it's more not taking our opportunities. If we can put 80 minutes together like we're putting half a game together then we're going to be hard to beat."

Kirwan's side returns home with just two points from South Africa and plenty of selection quandaries.

Nonu and Kaino are likely to be eased in from the bench. Elsewhere, changes are again likely.

Impressive lock Patrick Tuipulotu picked up a leg injury and could be sidelined. Chris Noakes again failed to fire after a surprise recall at first five-eighth. That's likely to see Simon Hickey reinstated and, after a lively cameo off the bench, halfback Bryn Hall will go close to nudging out a laboured Piri Weepu.

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Benji Marshall's starting debut at fullback was a success, with the star convert scoring a try. But it was hard not to sense Charles Piutau was wasted on the wing.

Pressure will mount on arrival in Auckland. Kirwan realises another loss could see his side slip out of contention and into dangerous territory.

"It's been a tough start for us. We were hoping to be coming home from South Africa with more points," he said.

"The reality is we're thereabouts with the top six. The very hard part in terms of travel is over. We're still in touch but we've got to make sure we get home and win our next two games."

- Fairfax Media

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