quick morning after match report.
Decent crowd. Was officially 20k, but those figures often feel a few thousand overstaed. Still solid though, and noisy.
Blues are consistently making good decisions in attack and defence. Not perfect by any means, but if you put 50 on one o fthe top Aussie sides and still have plenty to work on, that's a good result.
The Reds werne't bad at all. Strong set piece, tough, and asked some big questions on attack. Classic Brad Thorne - big hard runs, time after time. Tate is a bloody good 9 who knows how to play the ref. Aussies wlil be in the contest this year I feel.
Blues D was superb, and championship level. They keep stopping runners on the advantage line, good double tackles, and it takes something special to break them down. Team working hard for each other -- such a change from a few years ago. Plenty to work on, particularly with the lineout.
I won't say much about the ref, but by god it was a hard watch. Interpretation is one thing, but the most egregious moment was the Reds collapsing a maul that was a metre out from the tryline and going forward, and Fraser missed it. Honestly, had Penalty Try written all over it ... but to get whistled off the park and still put up the offense they did is impressive.
@Tim Robinson was noticeably light at lock. I don't think the scrum gets power with him there, was a really noticeable step up when Romano came on the field.
Clarke was mixed; equal parts sensational, breaking tackles at will, and then getting bumped off twice by Vunivalu. Still offers so much out there, but some work-ons.
RTS goes from strength to strength. Considering this is his first few rugby games, he's on a noticeable upward curve. Good defence, and you can see the quality of his stepping and attacking.
Telea is a bit like Clarke - some great things (ripping, getting over the ball in rucks), but also some rocks in your head moments.
Christie is an underrated component in this team. He took some poor options/executions at times, but his work on D is massive - flying around to shut down the opposition. It's a good feeling struggling to pick a MOTM from the team, but Heem takes the cake for me, coming off the bench to play centre, Christie for his D, and Akira for his work and physicality. Whole forward pack should get it thouhg their work is enabling the backs to look good out there.
So, 2 more comp points and we're minor champs. That's bloody impressive - particularly when you realise we had no preseason and most of the players had no NPC last year. Will we win it? Who knows - but we're certainly giving ourselves a damn good shot at it. It'll take something special to come to EP and beat us; can see Crusaders or a top performance from another Kiwi side doing it. But, frankly, we've won already. From where we were, to being a dominant force - winning the thing is important, but not as important as building the strucutre, talent pipeline and team culture that's being built. Papali'i needs to take some credit for that, stepping up and leading from the front.
Players I think they will pick in the AB squad
maybe: Robinson for Lock/6 cover
Huge game next week. Lock up the top spot, and get hte luxury of resting some players going into the finals.