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No room for error as Blues cling to playoff hopes

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WELLINGTON (Reuters) – There are several permutations that could yet see the Auckland Blues clinch a surprise Super Rugby playoff berth but captain Blake Gibson said on Wednesday his side should have only one goal over the final three weeks of the regular season.

“We need to win,” Gibson told reporters in Auckland ahead of Friday’s clash against South Africa’s Bulls, who are also battling for a playoff spot.

“It’s pretty obvious we need to win the next three games.

“We know that and it starts this week.”

Only the table-topping Canterbury Crusaders, on 53 points and virtually guaranteed home advantage for the postseason, and the Hurricanes (40) are comfortable, while the Sunwolves are the only side out of contention.

Just 10 points separate the 13th-placed Blues, last in the New Zealand conference on 26 points, and the Jaguares, who top the South African conference on 36.

In all likelihood, the Blues will need to beat the Bulls, the Queensland Reds next week and then the Wellington Hurricanes on June 15 if they are to clinch a postseason berth.

Developments elsewhere could aid or hinder the Blues’ cause but Gibson said it was important just to focus on the results they can control.

While the Blues have won just five games all season they can take confidence from their performance against the Crusaders last week when they put in a spirited display before going down 19-11 to the nine-times champions in Christchurch.

Blues coach Leon MacDonald said he had asked his senior players to take more control of the side and get their team mates to treat the week’s preparation as a sudden-death game.

“It’s important for us to get back (to winning),” MacDonald said. “We understand the importance of the game and the consequences if we don’t get a result.

“This week we’ve been talking about learning to win the games when the pressure is on.

“This is a big chance for our leadership group to take over and prepare like it’s a final.”

(Reporting by Greg Stutchbury; Editing by Peter Rutherford)

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