Blues feel semi spot is possible

2010-04-20 00:00

WHILE only the most optimistic Sharks supporters still cling to the forlorn hope that their team can somehow advance to the Super 14 play-offs, the Auckland Blues, their opponents at King’s Park this Saturday, still feel a semi-final spot is in their grasp.

The Sharks are ninth on the log, on 21 points after their four successive wins; the Blues are seventh (25 points), but they have a far easier closing month to their campaign.

The Sharks have to beat — with bonus points — the Blues on Saturday and then the Bulls (at Loftus), Stormers and Western Force (both in Durban) and reach 40 log points to have a mathematical chance of reaching the last four.

The Blues are up against three teams in the last five on the table after their Durban visit. They travel to Bloem­fontein next week to play the 13th-placed Cheetahs, then meet bottom-of-the-log Lions before returning home to host the Chiefs (10th) in Auckland. Victory in all four of their remaining games, with just one bonus point on the way, would take them up to 42 points and that would have earned them a semi-final berth every year since the competition was extended to 14 teams in 2006.

Saturday’s game at King’s Park is, then, make-or-break for both teams — “another cup final”, in the words of Sharks captain John Smit.

The Blues flew out to South Africa at the weekend without injured All Blacks lock Anthony Boric. The second-row forward has an ankle injury and he missed the Blues’ 38-17 win over the Force on Saturday.

While the Sharks have gone from bad to good with five successive defeats followed by four victories on the trot, the Blues have fluctuated from one week to the next. Their win over the champion Bulls was followed by a bad loss to the Stormers, but they were up again against the Force at the weekend.

It has been a particularly frustrating time for coach Pat Lam.

“We have to work as a team, not individuals,” he said before leaving New Zealand. “If we do that we can be a very damaging team, but if we don’t then we can be pretty average.”

He is convinced the Blues are stronger now than last year, but emphasised the importance of a win over the Sharks.

“This is it. We have to look after ourselves well and recover properly from the trip because this Sharks match is a massive test match for us.”

All Black wing Joe Rokocoko, who scored a hat-trick of tries against the Force, said the players are concerned about their see-sawing form, but determined to stay on a winning high in Durban.

“We have always felt confident in our game plan,” he said. “Even with our defeats we feel we are going the right way.”

Saturday’s match kicks off at 5.05 pm.

Blues touring squad: Anthony Tuitavake, Paul Williams, Isaia Toeava, Rudi Wulf, Rene Ranger, Benson Stanley, Luke McAlister, Joe Rokocoko, Dan Kirkpatrick, Stephen Brett, Chris Smylie, Alby Mathewson, Viliami Ma’afu, Tom Chamberlain, Serge Lilo, Peter Saili, Jerome Kaino, Andrew van der Heijden, Kurtis Haiu, Filo Paulo, Tom McCartney, Keven Mealamu, Charlie Faumuina, Tevita Mailau, John Afoa, Tony Woodcock.

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