Blues win but still a long way from the semifinals   4 Apr 2006

Ellie van Baaren

The Crusaders once again proved who’s best, while the Chiefs persevered over the Highlanders and the Blues answered a few critics with their win over the Bulls. ELLIE VAN BAAREN takes a look at round eight.

Surprise surprise the Blues got up off the ground to beat the Bulls at Eden Park at the weekend by the very respectable scoreline of 30-17, however, nothing could disguise their continuing problems in the lineout. And they lost loose forward Angus Macdonald in the process.

The win puts them fourth from the bottom on the table and lowest placed of the New Zealand teams but there is still the slight possibility of reaching the semifinals.

The good news is they have a relatively pain free run to the end of the competition, while the top four teams have largely yet to face each other. The next two games for the Auckland franchise – against the Stormers and the Force – should be a source of 10 points. Meanwhile the Waratahs must face off against the Crusaders followed by the Brumbies, and the Brumbies and the Crusaders have yet to face off against each other.

If the Blues want to get to the semis they’re going to have to sort out their lineout and do something about their ball retention. It took 39 minutes for hooker Keven Mealamu to connect properly with one of his jumpers and a botched linout in the 23rd minute gifted a try to the Bulls that brought them up to 10-13.

Luke McAlister should be back for the Blues next week after another rotten run of injuries, but we all saw what happened after the Blues defied critics and beat the Brumbies – the Waratahs happened.

The big match up of the weekend was the top of the table clash between the Crusaders and the Hurricanes.

The Cantabrians were the only unbeaten team on the table and unfortunately for the Hurricanes, they still are. When it came down to it, it was once again a case of discipline and experience winning out over talented enthusiasm.

The Wellington team went down two tries to one, with Corey Flynn and Andrew Ellis providing the tries for Canterbury and Lome Fa’atau for the Hurricanes. The Hurricanes’ try only came after David Holwell was brought on in the second half at first five-eighth.

The Crusaders continually challenged the Hurricanes’ defence and both captains agreed that the difference probably came in the amount of ball the Hurricanes turned over.

It was by no means a fancy game but the three tries were some of the best of the competition proving the two teams deserve to be in the top four and, especially with respect to the Crusaders, to stay there.

The Crusaders are still behind the Waratahs, who beat the Cheetahs 26-3, on the table but they have a game in hand. The two top teams now face off this weekend at Jade Stadium in what promises to be an intense match-up.

The Crusaders have no major injury problems and are showing no signs of complacency, while the Waratahs are still missing Matt Rogers who has not yet recovered from an injury he sustained against the Blues in round seven. The other game involving New Zealand teams at the weekend was the clash between the Chiefs and the Highlanders in Hamilton.

The Chiefs were coming off two close losses to the Crusaders and the Brumbies and were not about to let this one get away. This time, the Waikato team held their nerve, despite a high number of errors, to beat the Highlanders 16-13.

It was a hard-fought victory with the southerners’ defence – which they used to such effect in round eight – again serving them well. While their defence was rock solid, they failed to dominate in the forwards and were let down by an inaccurate kicking game.

Both teams are still in the hunt for a finals spot, however, while the Chiefs face three home matches against South African teams, the Highlanders must face two top four teams during their five remaining matches.

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