Blues coach Pat Lam is pleading with his players to follow the blueprint again on Saturday night as they face a challenge almost as big as the stunning turnaround they completed last week.
The Blues kept their cool to turn a record loss against the Bulls into a gritty win against the Stormers within the space of seven days and complete a satisfying road trip, according to DUNCAN JOHNSTONE writing for www.rugbyheaven.co.nz.
The test now is to counter the long trip home from Cape Town to Auckland and front up with enough petrol in the tank to run over the Sharks.
It’s the sort of draw that has tripped up many New Zealand teams in the past.
But having garnered 10 points in the opening three rounds, the Blues know they must not give up their home advantage. They have nine of their 10 matches in New Zealand now and seven of them at home. It’s a draw they have to take advantage of.
Lam admits it’s crucial his team pushes on. But he’s just as quick to point out the pressures they are operating under this week against a well-rested and unbeaten Sharks team.
“We can’t look too far down the line. It’s comforting to know we don’t have to travel too far again but this is all about the Sharks right now,” he said.
“It’s a big battle again. We have to play as a team again, stick to the game plan and work through the tactics we have for these guys and we will be in with a show.”
Just what that plan will be remains to be seen. What was pleasing against the Stormers was the Blues’ ability to rein in their free-wheeling game to a degree and front up with a huge defensive effort.
They will require something similar against the Sharks, a clever side who use a methodical approach to get into the right areas before unleashing attacks.
The Blues need to get a good kicking going in this fixture. They can’t allow themselves to be run ragged through their own ineptitude or by having the Sharks dictating terms.
That will be when fatigues comes back to bite them.
The decision to have first five Jimmy Gopperth and openside flanker Onosa’i Auva’a return home early from South Africa looks to be a clever one. You want clear heads in crucial positions like these – and fresh legs particularly in the case of Auva’a.
So Gopperth needs to take charge. In a position that is still to be settled, this is his big chance to stamp a real claim for the Blues No 10 jersey.
The Blues also have the freshest of them all in returning All Blacks lock Ali Williams who matches up against the Sharks’ tall timber of skipper Johann Muller and Steven Sykes.
The Sharks are a team that can squeeze the very life out of the opposition. Their razor sharp attack blunted a bit last year when they struggled to gain many attacking bonus points and it’s a similar scenario this year. They haven’t got any bonus points but they do have three wins and that’s what matters most.
“They are strong right through … a lot of Springboks, a lot of experience,” Lam said of the Sharks.
“That was the thing I noticed with the South African teams – there are a lot of older heads in there, a lot of experience right through all five of their teams.”
He believed that was the key to the Sharks being able to win tough games.
“They are a patient team, they are quite clinical in what they do. They have got some dangers. They have been together for a long time when you take the Currie Cup into it and (New Zealand coaches) John Plumtree and Chris Boyd are doing a good job there.”
BLUES: 15 Isaia Toeava, 14 Paul Williams, 13 Anthony Tuitavake, 12 Jamie Helleur, 11 Joe Rokocoko, 10 Jimmy Gopperth, 9 Taniela Moa, 8 Chris Lowrey, 7 Onosa’i Auva’a, 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Ali Williams, 4 Kurtis Haiu, 3 John Afoa, 2 Keven Mealamu (c), 1 Tony Woodcock. Reserves: 16 Tom McCartney, 17 Charlie Faumuina, 18 Jay Williams, 19 Josh Blackie, 20 Chris Smylie, 21 Michael Hobbs, 22 Winston Stanley.
SHARKS: 15 Stefan Terblanche, 14 Odwa Ndungane, 13 Adrian Jacobs, 12 Francois Steyn, 11 JP Pietersen, 10 Ruan Pienaar, 9 Rory Kockott, 8 Ryan Kankowski, 7 Keegan Daniel, 6 Jacques Botes, 5 Johann Muller (c), 4 Steven Sykes, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Tendai Mtawarira. Reserves: 16 John Smit, 17 Deon Carstens, 18 Alistair Hargreaves, 19 Skholiwe Ndlovu, 20 Ross Cronje, 21 Riaan Swanepoel, 22 Luzuko Vulindlu.Tweet