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Double blow denies Blues

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Sportal.co.nz     14 Apr 2012     Getty Images

And the manner in which centres Tim Whitehead and JP Pietersen minimised Blues second five-eighths Ma'a Nonu typified an overall Sharks defensive effort which denied the Blues sufficient momentum. A 17-7 handling errors concession by the Blues said it all.

So down were the Blues on confidence that mistakes by the Sharks that normally would have been swooped upon were squandered and when the Blues offered the same opportunities it was the Sharks who pounced especially during the first half.

Yet for all their indifferent play, and the loss of captain Keven Mealamu with a calf muscle injury, just before the half-time break, the Blues enjoyed a greater first half percentage of possession (62 percent) and territory (70 percent).

They could not have made a worse start. Not only was it potentially soul-destroying to concede a third-minute try, it was made worse because it came from sensible Blues attack only for a pass on the blindside from centre Benson Stanley to be intercepted by No.8 Keegan Daniel. He hared off for the goal-line 60m downfield, only to be run down by cover defender and first five-eighths Gareth Anscombe.

However, lock Steven Sykes was following up quickly and was able to drive over for the try.

Moments later, the Blues created their own chance when Mealamu charged down a kick by Sharks halfback Charl McLeod from the base of a ruck. In the ensuing play a penalty was conceded by the Blues eschewed the chance of a penalty goal to take the lineout option.

But the effort to create an opening was lost when Anscombe knocked on when grasping at a pass intended for a player outside him.

Acid, not salt, was poured into the wound in the 16th minute when another assault by the Blues was hamstrung when No.8 Chris Lowrey threw another long pass which found Sharks hooker Craig Burden who showed a blistering turn of speed in the open to race 60m to score. Following Lambie's 13th minute penalty goal, the Sharks were out to a 15-0 lead.

In the 19th minute the Blues finally got on the board when Anscombe landed a penalty goal.

Another chance came after a bust close to a ruck by wing Rene Ranger. He got close to the goal-line to set up ball, but again a knock-on occurred as Nonu attempted to pick up the ball and the chance was lost.

Prop Tony Woodcock's scrummaging created a tighthead in the 32nd minute close to the Sharks line. The Blues were quick to seize their chance and after tighthead prop Charlie Faumuina charged toward the line and Woodcock arrived at the ruck to twist one way and then the other to get the ball to ground for deserved reward for his efforts.

It seemed the second half was going to go the same way when fullback Rudi Wulf was fed into space on the blindside only to see his pass infield to Mathewson dropped when he was in the clear.

However, at the resulting scrum the Blues didn't contest and it created a mess which saw McLeod's pass across the front of the goalposts go to land rather than hand and Stanley was onto the ball in a flash to score.

But  the Sharks struck back brilliantly with a double blow. In the 44th minute quick ruck ball saw Burden break the defence and find Daniel who was over by the posts.

Then after the restart, Lambie made a startling break to open up the space. There appeared to be a knock-on but it wasn't ruled and second five-eighths Tim Whitehead got control of the ball to score. Lambie's conversions took them to a 29-20 lead.

For the Blues lock Liaki Moli was a strength in the lineout, Woodock dominated in the scrums while fullback Wulf was a potential threat but too many others in the side were guilty of frustrating inconsistencies, most of them related to handling issues, that are the lot of a side down on confidence.
Scorers: Blues 23 (Tony Woodcock, Benson Stanley tries; Gareth Anscombe 2 con, 2 pen, dropped goal) Sharks 29 (Steve Sykes, Craig Burden, Keegan Daniel, Tim Whitehead tries; Patrick Lambie 3 con, pen ). HT: 13-15