Blues look to cement top spot with win over the Crusaders »

Blues look to cement top spot with win over the Crusaders »
Blues look to cement top spot with win over the Crusaders »

Nearing the end of the qualifying phase of DHL Super Rugby Pacific, the table-topping Blues face the Crusaders in Christchurch on Saturday, knowing they could retain the top spot heading into the playoffs.

It’s an important prize as it would ensure home advantage if they progress through the playoffs.

Coach Vern Cotter said the team had a mindset, but that mindset would need to continue to lift going into the knockout phases. First, the Crusaders, who were unlucky to lose in Canberra at the weekend, will be a key test for the leaders.

Cotter said the Blues made it hard for themselves in the first half on Saturday, but they showed an understanding at halftime that they had kept the Highlanders in the game through set pieces and lineouts, allowing them to hurt the Blues with their strikes.

“Coming in at halftime everything was positive around how we could sort that out, and the players put it into action in the second 40. They took responsibility and did the job.”

Having been forced to make late changes, especially at tighthead prop and center, he said it had been ‘a buzz’ to see how the less experienced replacements responded.

“And you look at the first scrum when Mason Tupaea came on and got a bit of a fright, but he sorted it out after that. He had everybody behind him and that was key.”

The players appeared to thrive with the pressure of the occasion and finding the necessary cohesion.

“People will grow with the experience and that’s a good thing. Everybody’s engaged, they can see the same thing and they want the same thing and guys step in.”

He said there was an interdependency that was nice to see.

Captain Dalton Papali’i said it was pleasing to make changes, even some late ones, without the side missing a beat.

“It was a bit of a shock when some of the boys dropped out, but at the end of the day, it’s next man up; we all know what we’re here for.

“We’re here because we are all good rugby players but to see some of the boys debut, a lack of experience, but we all start from somewhere and it was awesome to see.”

It also impressed him how some more senior players helped the new players.

“Mace, at that first scrum didn’t go his way, but at that second scrum a couple of the boys went up to him and said, ‘this is your moment’. And then he held down their scrum and they should have given us a penalty. It’s awesome to see.”

The contribution of All Blacks prop Ofa Tu’ungafasi has been lifted to a career-best level.

Papali’i said, “I don’t know what he’s doing, he doesn’t want to tell anyone, but he’s playing awesome. When I first came to the Blues and got to lock horns with him in games, I could see how professional he is and how he’s continued to be that way and improve off the field and on the field.

“The good thing with him is that he doesn’t realize it, but it’s so vibrant. What he does is contagious. Some of the boys pick up on it at traning and it lifts everyone and it teaches young boys how to be a professional “

Cotter said Tu’ungafasi had a calming presence and led by example.

“He’s been outstanding in everything we’ve done.”

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