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Super Rugby: Blues losers in numbers game

Jim Kayes asks: has failure become a habit for the Blues?

Mark Twain attributed the line to British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli, though there’s no record of him having said it. “There are three kinds of lies,” Disraeli is credited with saying, “lies, damned lies, and statistics”. He might’ve been talking about the Crusaders’ win against the Blues.

The Crusaders were smashed in almost every numerical statistic there is except the one that matters – the scoreboard. The Blues carried the ball more often (137-93), covered more metres (539-238) made more clean breaks (15-2), off loads (18-4) and passes. As a result they were forced to make fewer tackles, (96 to the Crusaders 144) and didn’t miss anywhere near as many as their hosts (11 to 33).

Yet they lost. And in the end were well beaten, 33-24 having led 21-5 at halftime and 24-5 soon after. Then, as the Crusaders found some momentum, the Blues conceded 28 unanswered points. It shows what a little bit of self-belief can achieve. It shows what a bit of composure under pressure can do.

Having won in similar circumstances against the Reds a week earlier, it was clear the Crusaders were confident they could do it again. And it was just as clear the Blues believed they were destined to lose. Success breeds success. Failure? Well that too becomes a habit. The Blues haven’t won in Christchurch since 2004 and have enjoyed success against another New Zealand team just once in their last 19 games. It’s systemic, habitual and for some, all that they know.

The flip side is just as obvious, with the Chiefs showing how to win ugly in Melbourne as they, like the Crusaders, continue to be unbeaten after four rounds. It’s also a mark of the Chiefs’ side that coach Dave Rennie was angry that poor preparation was reflected in a poor performance.

It wasn’t vintage Chiefs but the stats at least show they were the better team. They beat more defenders, made more clean breaks and off loads, conceded fewer penalties, didn’t miss as many penalties and – crucially – scored four tries to the Rebels’ one.

Surprisingly – or perhaps not given the numbers from the Blues game – the Highlanders made more than twice as many clean breaks as the Hurricanes (25-12), beat slightly more defenders (24-23) and made 24 offloads to the Hurricanes’ 16, yet they were smashed on the scoreboard with the Hurricanes scoring seven tries to their two.

Damned statistics can make for a confusing picture.

What’s not confusing is that the Hurricanes have scored 33 tries and are, by some distance, the most potent team in the competition (the Lions are next best with 22, the Crusaders have scored 15). And it’s their non-All Blacks backs who are leading the way. Yes, TJ Perenara, Beauden Barrett and Julian Savea are playing well, but they are far from the stars of the show. Vince Aso scored twice, as did Ngani Laumape and Matt Proctor was a menace with the ball too. Aso and Laumape have scored 11 tries between them… two shy of the Blues' 13 and five more than the Highlanders’ six.

That’s encouraging for coach Chris Boyd, who says to win this competition you need your big names to play well in the big games. The Hurricanes’ big names are in good form with Dane Coles leading from the front and his fellow All Blacks all playing well. But the Hurricanes’ support crew’s pretty handy too.

And, crucially, they have confidence and self-belief in buckets. It’s what happens when you win. Just as a lack of confidence gives you a dose of the Blues.

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