The New Zealanders
A team with history, much like the Bulls over in South Africa. The Blues dominated the early years of Super Rugby, playing an exciting brand of innovate flowing rugby based on their doctrine of scoring more tries than their opponents. If you score more tries, you cannot lose……….
Those early days were exciting, both for Blues supporters, and for anyone watching Super Rugby. Great sweeping moves with the ball in hand, running at pace and with superior trickery. Great hands, great feet, great minds. The Blues were almost unstoppable, and the Super Rugby competition was the best in the world.
And then the millennium rolled around, the Blues somehow surrendered their tactical and strategic lead over everyone else, they became a predictable, somewhat staid, team. And so did Super Rugby. Growing from Super 10 to Super 12, and then into Super 14, then 15… then 18…. The competition grew like a malignant cancer, until it was so big that it started to consume itself..
Some of Super Rugby’s extraneous bits have been excised in an attempt to save the beast from extinction, more surgery is probably necessary if it were to thrive again, maybe radical surgery?
And so it is at the Blues.
After their heyday in the late 1990’s they managed one more trophy in 2003, since then it has been something less than wonderful.
Players came and went, coaches arrived, clung on for far too long, and left, and the Blues stumbled along as the also rans of the New Zealand based teams.
Even the arrival of All Blacks’ legend Tana Umaga as head coach did nothing for the Blues, although we have to add that they finished 9th last year, their best season since 2011. It might have been their best since 2011, but nobody will ever forget the ignominy of that loss to the Sunwolves……..
What made it all a bit strange is that this is a side loaded with talent! Superb backs, great forwards, and a loose trio amongst the best in the world. The real problem has been a lack of consistency. They contrive to lose games by narrow margins, and they keep losing. Somehow, they managed to beat the touring British Lions!
Thanks to the strangeness of SANZAAR and Super Rugby, the Blues open their season with a bye! Their playing season then starts with two local derbies against the Highlanders in Dunedin and then at home to the Chiefs before heading to South Africa face last year’s finalists, the Lions, and then the Stormers.
They head home to face the Sharks, then play the Chiefs away, head over to Japan for the Sunwolves, and then it is home again for two games, the Highlanders and the Jaguares both visit, before the Blues pop over the Tasman to play the Waratahs. They head straight home for two more in Auckland, the Hurricanes and the Crusaders both come calling.
In Round 15 they have another bye, and then play the Rebels and the Reds at home, before visiting the Hurricanes and the Crusaders to close out their season.
It is not a bad draw at all, just two games in Africa, one in Japan, and one in Australia, all the rest of their fixtures are in New Zealand.
The Blues lost a couple of key players in the off-season, with Charlie Faumuina going to Toulouse, Steven Luatua heading to Bristol, Piers Francis going home to Northampton Saints, Ihaia West heading off to understudy the Barretts at the Hurricanes, and Rene Ranger going French at La Rochelle.
No big-name players were signed on, just a bunch of exciting youngsters who have come through the systems.
I am not seeing anything to suggest that the Blues will be playoff contenders within the New Zealand environment. They will make the Aussies sweat, put up a fight against the South Africans, and frighten their own countrymen, but all to no avail. They will end at the bottom of the New Zealand conference, again.