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The Kansas City Blues made another stride towards repeating as the Midwest champions Saturday. The Blues bested Palmer 45-24 to take the third consecutive win for the season.
Despite what the score line might say, getting the win over Palmer was no easy task for the Blues. According to the Kansas City head coach Markus Valovalo, the college side has proven to be a tough nut to crack for his team in the past and this weekend’s match was no different. The Palmer pack made things difficult on Saturday, using size and athleticism to pose a formidable obstacle for the Blues. After adjusting to the pack problem, the Blues attacked the Palmer back line.
“Speaking to Palmer Coach Joe Lippert, it sounds like he's got some new, young guys on the edges,” Valovalo said. “Midway through the first half I threw some big bodies at them in hopes of exposing any defensive weaknesses. With the kind of athletes I have down the sidelines, my instruction to my halves was to feed the speed and it worked to good effect.”
The Blues put together a multi-dimensional attacking scheme on Saturday that mixed dynamic back line runners with young players in the tight five complementing the attacking loose forwards. All this coupled with an element of kicking made for an offense that was difficult to contain.
“We stretched the field with our short, intermediate and long kicking game,” Valovalo said. “Martin van der Westuizen, our flyhalf, is finding a feel for when to play hands and when to turn the opposition around. Add Mercer's kicking game from scrumhalf and I'm able to keep defenses guessing.”
In only his second full match back, Sean Murray led the scoring for the Blues by contributing four tries to his team’s efforts. Gannon Moore put in a pair of tries and played an integral role in ensuring one of his teammates scored, and Kenny Scott scored a try on Saturday. Kelly Mercer slotted five of the seven conversions he attempted. Captain Lloyd Saunders made his presence known on the field in the tackle area and led his teammates to another victory.
The struggle for the Blues on defense is maintaining focus and structure for the full run of the match. According to Valovalo, there were times when his players lost concentration Saturday, and Palmer made his players pay for it. For the Blues that kind of mental lapse is unacceptable, especially if the players plan to hold opponents’ point totals to a minimum.
“Defensively we are solid as ever when we are set pre-play,” he said. “The couple of times we were broken down defensively it was due to guys mentally switching off, which is totally unacceptable. We know we have tries in us for days. We need to prove we can keep teams to less than 14 points. For a side with so much outside speed we give away far too many line breaks that sometimes result in tries.”
Palmer made a competition of the set pieces on Saturday. When the packs came together, it was difficult for the Blues to settle in and get the jump on the engagement at scrum time and match the Palmer pack’s strength in the lineouts. According to Valovalo, Palmer’s pushing strategy was difficult to gain the advantage; and that same strategy translated into the drives off the lineouts.
There is a big-game buzz around the Blues camp with Metropolis waiting later in the schedule, but before the team gets to that match there are improvements that need to be made and other challengers standing in the way.
“We have huge games against an improved Milwaukee team and a Lions outfit that has some new pieces to it that I'll need to prepare for,” Valovalo said. “I reiterated to the boys that over the first three games we've managed to win our games without yet putting two good halves together back-to-back. When we're able to cut out the mental errors and play a great 80n minutes we will be very hard to beat.”