The Blues have damaged the Force badly in their two Super 14 meetings but the victims are convinced they can challenge those glitches this weekend.
Former All Black coach turned Force mentor John Mitchell is extra wary of the threat from the Blues, especially after they lost their unbeaten record last round.
He rates them as “ruthless, brave and very hungry”, a side who may not be as patient as the Crusaders but “can hurt you from anywhere”.
Wynne Gray writes in the NZ Herald that Mitchell felt his side would be better primed for Saturday’s game in Albany after pushing the Crusaders throughout their 29-24 win in Perth.
“These sort of games are the benchmark in this competition and they do harden your players to what is needed, how they have to step up to the plate against the best teams,” he said yesterday.
“The Blues put us away easily in our infancy and they will be mindful of that and so are we.”
The Force achieved the same results as the Blues in Africa with victories over the Lions and Cheetahs and defeat against the Sharks, although there was no comparison in their winning margins.
“We wanted to get a bit more out of our attack than we did in Africa and we managed to create some more in that area against the Crusaders,” Mitchell said.
However, he was disappointed they had not been able to sustain the pressure when they visited the Crusaders 22 and also felt they had an average night with their defence from first phase ball.
“We made six key defensive errors and they punished us on three of those.
“From the world I come from, that is disappointing and there comes a time when you can’t always use development and learning the game as an excuse.”
However, Mitchell was enthused about the contribution of his centre Ryan Cross who learned the code on the hoof last season after nine seasons away in the NRL with the Sydney Roosters.
He has adjusted to life as a Super 14 professional where players travelled far more than they did based in Sydney with league and his tussle this weekend with Blues’ midfielders Benson Stanley and Isaia Toeava would be absorbing.
“In Australia there is a big emphasis on Timana Tahu’s switch to rugby and Stirling Mortlock’s experience but this guy Cross provides a different kind of centre.
“He is very comfortable on defence and makes strong cuts at the line,” Mitchell said.
“I am impressed, he has really got his mind around the job now.”
The coach also filled the praiseometer about Matt Giteau’s work at first five-eighths.
“With these new laws we felt we had to get the ball to him a lot more because he was starved of possession at the World Cup.”
The 25-year-old gamebreaker was great to coach, very talented and someone who worked hard.
The key to his impact for the Force and the Wallabies would be the quality of his teams’ scrum and Mitchell was confident his would stack up on Saturday.
“It is coming on but good execution has to be repeated.
“Our props were like toothpicks when we started but there is development there.
“The Blues have also improved their scrum and John Afoa looks very well balanced at tighthead prop. They generate very good power, they have Nick Evans who can run or release pressure with his kicking.
“They test you all over the place but that is what we have to counter.”Tweet