Tana Umaga shoulders blame after woeful Blues wilt in Tokyo heat against sizzling Sunwolves
Blues coach Tana Umaga has shouldered the bulk of the blame after his side finished the Super Rugby season with a shock loss to the Sunwolves.
With both teams out of playoff contention, the last-placed Japanese side scored eight tries to three and ran the woeful visitors ragged on their way to a commanding 48-21 victory on a scorching afternoon in Tokyo on Saturday.
The Sunwolves, who had just one other win this year and came into the match having conceded 146 points in two big losses in South Africa, trailed by 14 towards the end of the first half before rattling off 41 unanswered points and keeping the visitors scoreless in the second spell.
The Blues simply couldn't live with the pace and ambition the Filo Tiatia-coached team played with, wilting under waves of unrelenting pressure as the mercury reached a furnace-like 42 degrees.
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While he acknowledged the attitude of Sunwolves had been far better, Umaga felt his decision to take his team to Japan 12 days early in an attempt to acclimatise to the sweltering temperatures had played a significant role.
"I have to look at myself before I start looking at the players and that performance," a downcast Blues coach said.
"It's how I prepare them during the week, what I have done to really help them and have I helped them enough. I can't play but I can have an influence with how they prepare and motivating them.
"We did what we thought was right but clearly it wasn't. We can't go pointing fingers at players and what they are doing, we've got to look at ourselves and what can we take out of this."
Although they were already resigned to finishing fifth and last in the New Zealand conference, lack of motivation was not an excuse for the Auckland-based franchise.
The contest was the 99th and last for the Blues for prop Charlie Faumuina, who is joining French club Toulouse, while loose-forward Steven Luatua was making his 76th appearance before heading for England to link up with Bristol.
Umaga said not sending the departing duo off in the appropriate manner was the hardest thing to take, followed closely by the feeling it left them with after an overall campaign that had also included seven wins and, at times, some promising signs.
"It's that old adage that everyone remembers your last performance and it's not a good one for us going into the end of the season.
"The best thing for us is to look at ourselves ... it's definitely one we'll debrief, we need to take the learnings.
"It's also just a realisation that we are where we are at the moment because of these inconsistencies we are showing, not being able to get on the front foot in games we're actually meant to do well in.
"That is attitude, preparation and mindset. And we've got to keep pushing on that."
It wasn't all doom and gloom from the Blues coach.
He still assessed the entire season as a step forward from last year and felt it was important one poor performance did not stop them from looking ahead in a positive fashion.
And while it was frustrating to not be taking those steps at a faster rate, Umaga said he had every intention of seeing out the third and final year on his current contract.
"I'm positive in what I can do and confident in my ability, I have to be otherwise I shouldn't be here.
"I'll see that [final year] out and who knows what happens after that. We all realise this is a results driven game.
"As long as we are improving hopefully I keep putting those opportunities up for myself."
Sunwolves 48 (Tim Lafaele 3, Keisuke Uchida, Ryohei Yamanaka, Kaito Shigeno, Yoshita Tokunaga tries, penalty try, Yu Tamura 2 con, Jumpei Ogura con) Blues 21 (James Parsons, Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, Michael Collins tires, Ihaia West 3 con). Halftime: 14-21.