The Blues are drowning in a sea of mechanical mediocrity.
Wynne Gray writes in the NZ Herald that they have lost their expression, they have the zombied-look of being overtrained and over rugby, the zip and sting have gone, they are delivering clock-punching rugby – the time at training equals results on the paddock theory.
Anxiety is coursing through the squad and the coaching ranks.
Advice came before Saturday night’s media conference with David Nucifora that the coach would not be taking any questions about job prospects in Australia. When the inevitable inquiry came about his plans, Nucifora said the subject was taboo while his media adviser interceded with repeat advice about subjects that were off limits.
Nucifora offered a range of thoughts about his side’s lack of nous against the Brumbies. His mood was grim while, in a sign of the pressure on the team, manager Ant Strachan arrived in a rare onlooker’s role.
Earlier the Brumbies champion flanker George Smith picked up on the subdued tone as only winners can.
“Are you still taking it all in?” was his chirpy opening line as he waited for the questions to start.
Nucifora’s successor at the Brumbies, Laurie Fisher, was surprised at the lack of attack the Blues brought to Eden Park but thought they were showing the effects of nine weeks of tough rugby.
A bye this week will loosen the training repetition but once that respite is over, the Blues return to the series against the frontrunning Crusaders. Yeeha.
Freshening may work but the list of concerns is growing: lineout, breakdown, lateral attack, the ineffective 8-9-10 axis, discipline – it is not pretty reading.
The majority of the side started in the four losses in the last six matches. Nucifora’s conservative nature suggests he will not tinker greatly with his selections for the Crusaders. His decision are limited by some of the choices made last year when the squad was chosen – four wings, no draft players, that sort of thing.
He has ignored Taniela Moa as a starting halfback, he has gone away from the hard-working loose forward experience of Justin Collins. After a strong pre-season and freewheeling fast start to the series, Nucifora seems to have screwed down the side’s expansive content.
They have not bounced back after meeting the South Africans’ challenge, they played poorly against the Waratahs and did not improve against the Brumbies. Concurrent injuries to Nacewa and Evans damaged their play-making quotient but other New Zealand sides have suffered more grievous injury tolls.
After a splurge of 18 tries while conceding six in the first three games, their next six matches have seen the Blues score 10 and yield 16 tries. The turnaround is startling. Indiscipline has risen, direct players like captain Troy Flavell have started running across field and possession has been shovelled sideways.
Nucifora has reason to look agitated. He can see a play-off spot which looked credible after twin escape wins against the Stormers and the Bulls evaporating fast as the challenges come from the Hurricanes, Waratahs, Chiefs and Stormers. He can also see eyebrows arching across the Ditch about him heading up the Wallabies high performance unit. Intriguingly, the Super 14 target may depend on how Nucifora can counter the coaching expertise of Robbie Deans who will work closely with that unit.Tweet