All too familiar for the Blues and all too frustrating.
Those were the blunt storylines from their third consecutive loss to the Sharks in a match where they were bewildered again by the breakdown rulings of Australian referee Brett Bowden.
But away from those unadorned assessments, the Blues could lay the blame for the 22-17 defeat on their lack of poise in the first half and a long list of handling, passing and kicking errors.
Wynne Gray writes in the NZ Herald that the Sharks applied their swarming attack on the ball, aggressive blitz defence mixed with short kicking tactics, and the Blues had an erratic response to the formula that had twice accounted for them last season.
They struggled to build any structure or tempo before the interval while the Sharks flourished on the momentum provided by flanker Keegan Daniel, who scored after just 17 seconds when the Blues failed to control the kickoff.
Daniel had a second from a close-range quick penalty and captain Johann Muller scored from a turnover and chip-kick when the Blues lost possession in their own 22.
The Blues ate into the 19-3 halftime deficit with tries to Nick Evans and Taniela Moa but their lack of precision and the Sharks’ belligerent defence meant the gap was too great for the visitors.
Coach David Nucifora acknowledged the damage done by conceding the opening try and the difficulties of playing catch-up rugby.
He admitted his side were flustered for much of the opening half but said they had employed more of the composure and strategies they had set for themselves, after the break.
While Nucifora was critical of his side’s performance – “we came here expecting to play better than we did” – it was clear that the Blues and Bowden were not on the same wavelength at the contentious collision areas of the game.
“They got away with it and credit to them for that, they were allowed to stifle us,” Nucifora said of the scramble for possession at the tackle zone.
Bowden was in charge of the Blues game last week against the Cheetahs and Nucifora agreed his team should have learned better from that refereeing preview.
“We knew what to expect, that it was likely to be interpreted differently but we should have coped.”
South African sides, generally, tend to go off their feet more or play the ball on the ground at the breakdowns and the Blues thought Bowden was too lenient in his rulings towards the Sharks.
But it will be the self-inflicted wounds which will make the ugliest viewing for the Blues this week as they review video footage of the game.
Sweltering conditions and high humidity made handling tough but the Blues had conditioned themselves by soaking balls at training and devoting extra care to passing and ball retention.
Censure could be widespread, from forwards not placing or protecting the ball better, to halfback Danny Lee having kicks charged down, and Evans throwing a handful of forward passes.
Where there had been a fluid thread through their previous games, this was a messy, fretful, muddling reaction from the Blues against the hustle of the coastal warriors from Durban.
“We made more errors in the first 20 minutes than we did in the last three weeks,” Nucifora said.
He did not attribute the problems to any physical or mental fatigue, it was more a case of the Sharks getting on a roll with the methods which had worked for them in the last few matches, and then hanging on as the Blues mounted their comeback.
“They got in our face and we did not cope with that at the time,” said Nucifora.
The Blues missed the win but importantly, gained a bonus point and denied the Sharks that dividend.Tweet