As the Blues’ pain over their poor on-field form continued, the franchise’s off-field troubles escalated as their supporters showed the darker side of Auckland.
At the end of a week that was littered with racial abused hurled at Blue coach Pat Lam and his players, spectators at Eden Park debased the team even further when they hurled objects onto the field – as the Sharks edged the Blues 29-23 in a Super Rugby Round Eight match.
While the incident is probably not as serious as the recent pitch invasion at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria – when Johannes Gideon Nel entered the playing arena and threw an energy drink bottle at Blues captain Kevin Mealamu – but Friday’s incident in Auckland was just as disgraceful.
It happened in the 17th minute, when objects were thrown from the crowd at Sharks hooker Craig Burden as he was about to score a try.
SANZAR Chief Executive Greg Peters, who confirmed that he had seen the incident, said they will be waiting for a formal report.
“It was not immediately clear to me how serious it [the incident] was, but we will wait for the match manager’s report to see if it is raised in that,” Peters told this website.
“It certainly appears to be different to the pitch invasion at Loftus.
“As always we are concerned about the safety of our players,” he added.
Peters urged South African authorities to “throw the book” at the fan who invaded the Loftus pitch last month and while he was unwilling to comment before seeing the official report, SANZAR will no doubt be keen to stamp out incidents of spectator misconduct.
The Blues did not immediately respond to requests for their reaction to the incident, unlike the Bulls – who displayed their ‘zero tolerance’ policy for unruly fans and promised that there would be “harsh repercussions” for Nel.
Nel was immediately arrested, escorted to the security control room and later taken to the Sunnyside Police Station where a charge of assault has been laid against him.
For the Blues it was not a good week, which seemed to go from bad to worse – especially as they slumped to their fourth loss in a row and sixth in seven matches. It all but extinguished any glimmer of hope the Blues might have had of reaching the play-offs, as they remain firmly rooted to the bottom of the New Zealand Conference and second to last – with only the Lions below them.
Blues captain Keven Mealamu said his players were stringing together some good phases of play, but letting themselves down with poor execution.
“The boys are really trying hard out there, but those little things really cost us,” he said.
“You just can’t play in this competition with that many errors.”
The Blues next travel to Dunedin for a tough Round Nine match against the Highlanders, while the Sharks return home after winning two and losing two of their matches on a four-match swing through Australia and New Zealand.
“We’re very happy with the way things ended,” Sharks captain Keegan Daniel said.
“We mixed our form on tour, but to come to the home of rugby and come away with five points, we’re chuffed with that.
“We had to defend for most of the first half and that’s probably been one of our downfalls over the last few weeks.
“I’m proud of the way the boys defended and we got four tries to take a bonus point so I’m happy with that.”