The thing that may disappoint Blues coach Leon MacDonald most about his team’s 20-13 defeat to the Chiefs last night in Hamilton – more than the constant trickle of unforced errors in the slippery conditions from those including key drivers Beauden Barrett and Stephen Perofeta – is the lack of a killer instinct.
There were shades of the Blues’ defeat to the Crusaders at Eden Park in round four here in the way the visitors contrived to let the Chiefs off the hook through their mistakes but it was a tactical decision in the second half that MacDonald may point to in what is likely to be an uncomfortable review session.
The Blues were increasingly in control at scrum time against the Chiefs and in the 50th minute of the match, after winning a penalty from a dominant scrum 5m in front of the posts with the score 20-10, it appeared the perfect time to put the Chiefs straight back under pressure with another scrum.
They were in pushover try range, or, if the Chiefs offended again under pressure and in reverse, perhaps penalty try territory.
Either way, the odds of a seven-pointer were in the Blues’ favour, and, while this is being written with the benefit of hindsight, getting within a penalty kick of the Chiefs would have changed the complexion of the match.
It appeared that Dalton Papali’i was leaning on the decision making of No.10 Barrett (who had previously suggested turning down shots at goal for scrums) but as a member of a forward pack which was dominating the Chiefs in this area Papali’i should have shown no hesitation in packing down again. Instead, they took the penalty shot.
Barrett, who was badly off target with the boot in the first half – a surprising inaccuracy that may have contributed to his wish to get closer to the posts when he was put through a gap before stepping on the dead ball line in the act of scoring a regulation try – had a mixed game.
His ball handling also let him down in the first half and while he became more influential, he remained wary about taking on the line as the Blues, badly missing wing Mark Telea, struggled for penetration.
Damian McKenzie, was, to borrow a phrase from former All Blacks coach Sir Steve Hansen, a fly in a bottle for the Chiefs who have an attacking diamond in the form of right wing Emoni Narawa.
In soaking up wave upon wave of Blues attacks in the second half, the Chiefs, unbeaten after six rounds, displayed their title winning credentials, but some sharper decision making from their opponents would have taken them outside their comfort zone.
This defeat, their third of the season, takes the Blues to fifth on the table, three points behind the fourth-placed Crusaders.
It's still early days in terms of the competition but in the big games last year's beaten finalists going to have to find a cutting edge and some clearer thinking, and quickly.