Leon MacDonald insists he is not hungover from last year as his Blues battle for backup in Super Rugby Pacific this season.
The emotional toll of the 2022 campaign would have been extreme, as the Auckland side won that brilliant club-record 15-game run and then unleashed everything in that agonizing defeat to the Crusaders in the final at Eden Park.
Now, returning to try to rectify that disappointment, the Blues battle inconsistency in the first six rounds of this season, but must string together back-to-back wins in a 3-3 start to finish fifth in the standings. ranking. ladder.
They are two points ahead of the sixth-placed Highlanders, three behind the fourth-placed Crusaders and 11 ahead of the pioneering chefsWHO they fell 20-13 in Hamilton on Saturday night.
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It was a game in which the Blues got a stack of chances, enjoyed 60% of the ball and played 61% of the game in the hosts’ half, with those numbers rising to 75% each in the second stanza.
“Obviously it’s hard to swallow, kind of like the Crusaders a few weeks ago,” MacDonald said shortly afterwards.
“I felt we had a lot of possession, territory and pressure and had good equality in many areas. So it is quite frustrating not to be able to win.”
After opening with that 60-20 thump from the Highlanders, the Blues failed to kick through. They fell to the Brumbies, overcame the Hurricanes, couldn’t get three treats against the Crusaders, let their second-rangers do the job against the Force, and now couldn’t take a killing blow in a Battle of the Bombays arm wrestling. .
But MacDonald doesn’t believe they’ll face a drop in intensity from 2022 – psychological or physical – and even believes their game is in better shape now.
“There’s no hangover,” he said
“I actually think we played better tonight than last year here when we won [25-0 in Hamilton]which is ironic, but that’s sports sometimes.
“We are moving in the right direction, I think a lot of parts of our game are moving in the right direction. We can see it growing by the way we train and engage during our weeks, and while the results don’t go the way we want them to, we know they will come if we keep working hard and supporting the process.
“We’re not losing faith or trust… we’re in the middle of the hunt, not far off at all. If anything, we should be pretty excited about where we’re going in our game.
Captain Dalton Papalii admitted he kept thinking about the ‘what if’ after several times refusing penalties on target, in coordination with his other leaders on the field, but his side subsequently failed to score any points.
He said it was important to hold each other accountable, with only one or two moments where the team failed to perform, costing them games, something MacDonald said was not due to lack of effort.
“Not putting the ball down when you get into in-goal seems to be a recurring theme,” he joked in connection with Beauden Barrett’s failed attempt.
“Little mistakes just pop up, and sometimes that happens when you try too hard.”
After a win-lose-win-lose-win-lose, the Blues will now turn their attention to another trip to Melbourne, for Saturday night’s game against the ninth-seeded Rebels (2-4), who go off a 38-28 defeat to the Fijian Drua in Suva.
With no further injuries to report, MacDonald said backline utility Bryce Heem may be back from the groin problem that kept him out of the Chiefs game, that two-Test winger Mark Telea would be on deck after his rest week, while fellow All Blacks Hoskins Sotutu and Stephen Perofeta, who have started the six games so far, would both have a week off.