I thought why am I doing this?
Blues coach John Kirwan hailed his team’s ‘mature’ performance to see off the Stormers 18-17 at North Harbour Stadium on Friday.
Curbing their natural instincts to run the ball from anywhere, the Blues kept it tight and forced the Stormers into making errors from which Chris Noakes was able to capitalise, nailing six penalty kicks from seven attempts – the most by any Blues player.
Kirwan’s men adapted their gameplan brilliantly for the Stormers, refusing to kick the ball into touch and offer them the opportunity to utilise their powerful rolling maul.
They also fronted where it mattered most – in defence. Against a bruising forward pack, the Blues were a brick wall as they smashed into the opposition and won the contact battle.
Kirwan said he was thrilled with the maturity his side showed to grind out the win.
“I’m really, really proud of them to be honest – they just gutsed it out. I think it was a game that was played tactically well. We stayed down there and took our penalties,” Kirwan said.
“We talked about frustration all week which is what the Stormers do to you. We want to play football. This is a fantastic football side and they just shut you down,” he said.
“But we still managed to carry for five or six rucks and we knew if we could do that they’d maybe infringe and that’s what happened. We got 18 points out of that just by actually sticking to it, being disciplined, getting back and starting again.
“That’s showing real maturity from the boys because it’s a hard style of game when you’re Francis Saili, Charles Piutau and Rene Ranger.”
Leading 15-3 midway through the second half, two tries to Stormers captain Jean de Villiers in the final quarter brought the game to a nail-biting climax as the visitors closed the scores up to just one point.
With the siren sounding, the Stormers held the ball for more than three minutes as they tried to force the Blues into an error, but the Blues managed to hold on to record a brilliant victory.
Kirwan admitted it was a tense final few minutes in the coaches box.
“I didn’t really see much, my heart was pounding and I thought why am I doing this?” he said.
“So did I mate!” captain Ali Williams chimed in during the press conference.
“I took the radio headset off and stood up and just thought this is really up to them to tough it out, there’s not much we could do. I was just really proud of them. The discipline they showed for 43 minutes in the second half, just staying in the line, getting up and making their tackles was quite outstanding.”
In the build-up to Friday’s game, Kirwan said it was a season-defining game for his side against the Stormers as they looked to maintain their position in the top six.
They did just that as the Blues currently sit in fifth position on the overall ladder, but Kirwan knows it is back to work on Monday to prepare for another tough game.
“It’s vital for us to win every week because the pressure just mounts. If you come off a loss like we did last week, if we didn’t win tonight we’d be under the pump so it was a really critical game for us, just like the Stormers.
“De Villiers said during the week it was a critical game for them too but it doesn’t change the fact that we’ve got to come out here again next week and have another big game.”
The Blues face the Melbourne Rebels at Eden Park next Saturday.