JOHANNESBURG – New Zealand’s Blues may be their country’s biggest under-achievers and perennial bottom-feeders but the Lions won’t make the mistake of underestimating Tana Umaga’s wounded side.
Blessed with pace, skills and power the Blues have battled to make an impression in Super Rugby since the early days and again this season are struggling to get going.
They have done plenty of playing but lost both their opening matches this year and the stuff.co.nz website is already using terms like “on the brink”, “broken Blues” and “coulda, woulda, shoulda” to describe their start to 2018.
Now they’re in South Africa, Joburg to be precise, to tackle the high-flying Lions who’re already three from three after registering wins against the Sharks, Jaguares and Bulls.
One man who knows how dangerous the Blues can be and who certainly isn’t taking them lightly is Springbok and Lions fullback Andries Coetzee.
He’s been on the receiving end of an All Blacks demolition job and also knows just how dangerous the New Zealanders can be if they click on the day.
“We know how good these guys are, especially with ball in hand, on the counter-attack,” said Coetzee yesterday ahead of this weekend’s match at Ellis Park. “They’re excellent at capitalising on one’s mistakes so the key for us is to limit our mistakes and keep our discipline ... that’s the team that will win.
“We’re excited about the challenge, our first New Zealand opposition this year.”
Coetzee added his team would have to be switched on for the full 80 minutes.
“We’ve won three matches but it means nothing really at this early stage of the competition. It’s a long season and anything can happen in any week ... there’s just no room to slack off. That’s why it’s the most difficult competition in the world; you need to concentrate every week and do proper homework on your opposition, otherwise you’ll get hurt.”
And the Blues certainly are a team who have the potential to punish their opponents.
The Lions will do well to keep in mind the visitors have such devastating runners at the back like Melani Nanai, George Moala and Rieko Ioane, and up front powerhouses like Akira Ioane, Patrick Tuipulotu, Jimmy Tupou and Ofa Tu’ungafasi.
Coetzee said his teammates opted to rather focus on what they had to do this week to make it four from four, with his personal form and that of his teammates big motivators going into the clash.
“Look, the team is playing well and that means the individuals are doing their work; the forwards especially. It’s a good start yes, but there’s a long way to go. Personally, I think the fact I played Test rugby last year has given me greater confidence going into this season,” he said. “It’s given me more comfort to make decisions, but that doesn’t mean I’m comfortable. One has to reset every year and set new challenges for yourself.”
Coetzee has indeed made a good start to 2018, as have most of his teammates, including wings Sylvian Mahuza and Aphiwe Dyantyi who’re part of a new-look back-three.
“They’re playing good rugby. I’m used to having Ruan (Combrinck) and Courtnall (Skosan) on the wings, but it’s nice to see some new faces in the team. We challenge each other in different ways which is always good, so we’re learning and growing all the time.”
The last time the Lions and Blues met, also at Ellis Park, in May 2016, Warren Whiteley’s men won 43-5.
The game kicks off at 5.15pm on Saturday.