Blues head coach Sir John Kirwan has praised the courage and commitment of his young outfit in the wake of their narrow 41-35 loss to the Queensland Reds on Saturday night in the first trial match of the year.
The Auckland based franchise pushed a star studded Reds team featuring 11 Wallabies right to wire in Toowoomba, with just one point separating the two teams heading into the final 10 minutes of the match.
However Kirwan said the final result on the scoreboard was irrelevant and he was proud of how his young side acquitted themselves.
“It was a great way to start,” Kirwan said.
“We saw some real positives. There are lots of works-ons but the main thing for me was that I was really happy with the attitude, courage and commitment the guys showed.
“It was never about the outcome for us, it was about the process. It was really important that we got the processes right and that we went through the systems that we’d trained and we actually did that last night.”
In a rollercoaster of a game, the Blues raced out to an early 14-0 lead before the Reds stormed back in the second half, scoring five unanswered tries.
However the plucky Blues responded, with Albert Nikoro, Francis Saili and Lolagi Visinia all crossing the whitewash to put the visitors back in contention.
Fullback Marty McKenzie had a fine night with the boot, slotting all five conversions, but two tries to Reds flanker Liam Gill snatched victory for the home side.
Kirwan said his young group of players did the Blues jersey proud and he was at pains to single out any one star performer.
“I asked them to express themselves and I think some of those young guys really did. People asked me after the game whether anyone stood out and the answer is everyone stood up to the plate which was really good so I don’t want to name individual guys.
“But there’s still plenty to work on so we’ve got to keep our feet on the ground because we’ve got a lot to do.”
Kirwan said the focus this week would be on tidying up some set piece work.
“We need to keep working on our unit stuff so our set piece, both forwards and backs and we need to execute a bit better. Some our attacking structures need to be a bit more disciplined, but all-in-all none of those are major concerns, they are just where we’d want to be now.
“We just need to make sure that better never stops so tomorrow we get up and get into it.”
Fortunately there are few injury concerns for the Blues. Midfielder Jackson Willison was the only casualty sustaining a corked thigh, but he has recovered well and is expected to be back in action later in the week.
Fullback Charles Piutau suffered an injury to his foot at training late last week and withdrew from the match against the Reds, but scans have confirmed no major damage and he should return in time for the Blues’ final trial match against the Highlanders.
The Blues now turn their attention to their second trial game against the New South Wales Waratahs at Toll Stadium, Whangarei on Saturday (kick-off 2.30pm).
The Sydney based franchise are coming off a 24-16 victory over the Melbourne Rebels as Rugby League convert Israel Folau scored two tries on debut.
Tickets for the match are available from the Northland Rugby Union offices.