Blues on high alert ahead of Brumbies knockout clash

Blues WEB

Two years ago, the Blues won a frenetic 20-19 semifinal over the Brumbies, and last year, the Brumbies exited at the same stage when losing to the Chiefs in Hamilton.

While the Blues won 46-7 over the Brumbies earlier this year, they are expecting a much more formidable challenge on Friday.

Blues coach Vern Cotter said his experience of playoffs rugby, something his teams haven't always won, came down to the day. The week's preparation was necessary, and then, as things unfolded, it was down to the ability to adapt and have leaders step up and stay in the contest throughout.

"There will be mental anxiety around field position, the scoreline, and bits and pieces. So it's understanding that's part of the game, walk towards it, and back what we've been doing.

"It's keeping things simple and respecting the fundamentals of the game. We don't have to invent anything new or different, just be very good at what we're doing."

Cotter said the Brumbies had been public in saying their earlier 7-46 loss to the Blues was a game they took a lot from, especially around the collision and contact area.

"They have told us via the press this week that they will be ready and feel they'll be able to dominate us. So that's been taken on board by the boys first and foremost.

"We expect a game that will be tightly contested around all that collision area, the point of contact.

"From there, things will happen positively or negatively for the team in possession or without possession.

"There'll be a nice set piece battle, they're very good at it. Their lineout is one of the better lineouts in the competition."

Flanker Akira Ioane's chances of playing depend on his injured calf getting through Thursday's captain's run. Other players are on standby should he not be available.

Sam Darry steps into Tuipulotu's shoes after recovering from concussion.

He has grown as a player this year, and while well-mannered, Cotter reminded him that it isn't possible to always be well-mannered on the field.

"He's starting to get a bit of an edge to his game around those collisions, and he's a great leader in the lineout."

Darry, when playing, has been the caller of the lineout strategies.

"He's a smart student of the game. He spends a lot of time looking at his options and opportunities, and communicates that well with his teammates. It's a real link to the team and helps us prepare in that domain of the game."

Cotter said Darry texted him soon after his appointment, asking him what he needed to do to improve.

"We went through a few things. He's got his acquired techniques and strengths, and he just needed to add to it. The other part was his physical size, density, ability to shift bodies and people in front of him and his carry to become more effective when he carries the ball.

"He's worked on body position, worked hard in the gym and he's got an opportunity against Australian locks to show what he can do."

Captain Dalton Papali'i said that in a short week of preparation, it was important to have one day of intense training to stimulate everything and prepare the mind and body.

"This is where is probably more important, just to keep reminding the body that it's going to be a tough one, especially with the Brumbies coming over here. They're going to throw the kitchen sink at us."

Papali'i said the key aspect of the game would be around the collisions and getting them right.

He said they would be sticking to their season's blueprint.

"I've been in teams where you try to change it up for finals footy, and you try to surprise them [opponents], but it backfires at you because sometimes people forget their roles, or you try something different that you're not really used to."

Papali'i said they have been more consistent this year than last year when the Crusaders beat them in the semifinals. Their loss to the Hurricanes in Wellington was a shock to the system, but they learned they needed to perform every week.