Sport | Rugby

How the Blues won Super Rugby Pacific

Photo / Super Rugby / Sky Sport

This article was first published by RNZ.

Analysis - If there’s a generation gap in rugby fans, it can be found in the way one certain aspect of the game is described. If you’re older, you’d say ‘up the guts’. For younger folks, it’s ‘running it str8′.

Blues coach Vern Cotter probably doesn’t care what you call it, because it just won the Blues their first full Super Rugby title in 21 years. Their 41-10 demolition of the Chiefs was simply a continuation of what they’ve been doing all season, sending bodies at the line again and again, until the opposition cracks.

It was everyone’s duty to be a part of the weekly onslaught. Mark Tele’a was repurposed from a traditional wing to a sledgehammer running off rucks. AJ Lam’s pace was channelled into painful running lines. Even Harry Plummer had no qualms about throwing himself into a mass of defenders, simply to get his nose on the ground and recycle the ball so someone else could have a hit up.

Then there were the players that are conditioned for it anyway and thrived. There’s no coincidence Hoskins Sotutu had the best season of his career under this doctrine, Cotter maximised his efficiency by simply stripping back his role to that of a wrecking ball.

The Blues scored the most points this season (488) and conceded the least (233). The set piece was dominant, it’s telling that the one game where their scrum didn’t get on the right side of the referee was also their worst performance (a loss to the otherwise hapless Crusaders).

But the most telling bit of data is the origin point of the tries they scored in the play-offs. The previous breakdown from when the ball crossed the line was invariably only a metre or so out - with the ground made to that point fought over with incredible intensity. Case in point: for Akira Ioane’s opening try the departing flanker travelled a matter of inches but still had to use all of his guile to get the ball on the paint.

Caleb Clarke scored three, one off a stunning bit of work by the Ioane brothers to keep the ball in play, one off a courageous line off a scrum and the last the most traditional winger’s effort, taking a long pass from Finlay Christie to dive over.

It was a brutally efficient way to win a championship, that’s for sure. There are players who have certainly benefitted from it, but as Chiefs coach Clayton McMillan mentioned post-match, will it influence the way the All Blacks play?

“It’s kind of something new, isn’t it?” McMillan said, after the game.

“We haven’t really seen teams in New Zealand do that and it’s probably going a bit away from the DNA of All Black rugby, so it’ll be interesting to see what the All Black coaches have seen…what can be implanted into the All Black regime.”

Cotter, for his part, simply reiterated that his side had stuck to the plan.

“It’s been building since we’d come together a long time ago. It’s been our objective right from the start, the boys haven’t faltered,” he said.

The ironic thing is that hasn’t been any great revelation to anyone following the Blues that a hard-nosed coach busting the whole team system back to basics was going to return them to their glory days. Cotter certainly wasn’t asking for any plaudits post-match but it’s a remarkable achievement in his first season as a Super Rugby coach, something that filled Eden Park again and dramatically swung the city’s footballing attention the Blues’ way due in no small part to another result on Saturday.

It was a deserved championship for the Blues, especially for the players who had been through the rough times with the team. It might not have been achieved the way the other three trophies were won all those years ago, but as far as these Blues did it in their own, tough style.

By Jamie Wall of RNZ.