Can Blues do the near unthinkable

Patrick McKendry, NZ Herald ,
Publish Date
Monday, 12 March 2018, 3:52PM

A little bit of hope is said to be a dangerous thing, and the same could be said when expectation and the Blues have combined in recent years.

Tana Umaga and his men were determined to enjoy the moment after their incredible 38-35 comeback victory over the Lions in Johannesburg, but now they will be turning their attention to playing the Stormers in Cape Town on Sunday morning NZT, and it's a game they should win given the contrasting fortunes of the two teams.

It's at these moments that the Blues generally disappoint. I wrote last week that, after performing so poorly against an injury-depleted Chiefs at Eden Park, losing skipper and halfback Augustine Pulu to injury and leaving Auckland for South Africa 24 hours late due to a flight issue, the expectation levels on the Blues were so low that they had a real capacity to surprise at Ellis Park.

Those expectation levels will be rising now and the question is do they have the ability to deal with it.

After looking so composed and fresh despite facing a deficit of 18 points in the second half against the best team in South Africa (and at altitude), a defeat at sea level against a Stormers team dogged by injury and illness who have to travel back from a winless tour of Australia and New Zealand will be extremely disappointing.

The Blues have lost prop Alex Hodgman to an arm injury, with Sione Mafileo travelling as a replacement, but their entire squad showed such form at Ellis Park, including, significantly, their reserves, that Hodgman's absence shouldn't be an issue.

The Blues bench brought them home, and that's something Umaga will cherish for he hasn't got enough from it during his two full seasons at the franchise.

It was replacement loose forward Murphy Taramai who scored the winning try near the posts in the final minute. Four minutes earlier it was another replacement loosie, Jimmy Tupou, scoring, with reserve lock Scott Scrafton playing his part in the build-up.

And Stephen Perofeta's influence in those final, frantic, minutes, cannot be stressed enough. The 20-year-old replaced first-five Bryn Gatland with 25 minutes remaining and brought a Dan Carter-like calmness to his team.

Perofeta, playing his first competition game of the year after returning from a hand injury, displayed a computer-like ability to take the right option and he has the golden knack of creating time and space for himself without seeming to do anything special at all.

He will probably be Umaga's main selection issue this week, and it wouldn't surprise to see Perofeta starting in the No10 jersey at Newlands.

He started the year as the top-ranked first-five at the franchise and is likely to have done enough to prove his fitness for what is an extremely important fixture for the Blues. A win in Capetown would represent Umaga's most significant fortnight at the franchise.

His best result so far was watching his men beat the British and Irish Lions at Eden Park last June. Their next result was a thrashing at the hands of the Sunwolves in Tokyo.

It's time for them to live up to expectation.



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