Three weeks into the season and the Blues are already being written off.
Across New Zealand, the Blues are being tagged as the disappointments of the country – it’s the same old stuff from the Auckland-based side, apparently.
But that’s not quite true.
It’s early days yet, but while it certainly hasn’t been the best start to a season, there’s still plenty of water to pass under the Harbour Bridge before we get a real understanding of what this Blues team is capable of.
Continue reading below…
One from three isn’t anything to write home about – but look who the Blues have had to compete with so far.
In round one, the Chiefs came to Eden Park. The Blues managed to build a solid 19-5 halftime lead courtesy of a brace of tries to (now injured) wing Rieko Ioane.
The Blues’ round two opponents, the Waratahs, may have had their worst-ever start to a Super Rugby season – but that’s partially due to what the Blues managed to achieve in Newcastle.
Rob Simmons, Michael Hooper, Karmichael Hunt and Kurtley Beale were all on hand for the Waratahs and the fact that the Blues were able to lead the game from start to finish – while playing away from home – is a testament to their ability.
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) February 15, 2020
In round three, the Blues again played host to a New Zealand side – this time facing the defending champion Crusaders.
As in round one, the Blues started fast and built a small lead but they were ultimately no match for the Crusaders.
And despite the Crusaders haemorrhaging experience between seasons, they were still able to field a backline containing an All Black in every position except halfback – although even then, Bryn Hall did tour with the national side at the end of 2018 and one-cap All Black Mitchell Drummond came off the bench in the second half.
The common trend in the Blues’ games to dates is that they’ve squared off against sides littered with experienced Test-level internationals – while the Aucklanders haven’t had the same luxury.
On Friday night against the Crusaders, the Blues started six players who have previously earned caps for the All Blacks: James Parsons, Karl Tu’inukuafe, Ofa Tu’ungafasi, Patrick Tuipulotu, Dalton Papalii and Matt Duffie.
Of those six, just two travelled to the 2019 World Cup and none of them started in the pivotal match against England.
Excluding the two that were in Japan, the Blues’ All Blacks had an average of just four Test-caps each.
That’s a far cry from what the Crusaders, Chiefs and even Waratahs were able to field, in terms of internationals.
This came down to the WIRE.https://t.co/I9KCaiwwie
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) February 15, 2020
And that difference in experience was very clearly reflected in expectations heading into the season. The Crusaders and Chiefs were instilled as the two favourites to take out the competition in all the major betting agencies around the world.
The Blues, meanwhile, were expected to finish a distant fourth in the New Zealand conference.
Come the end of the season, you’ll struggle to find many teams that are able to best both the Crusaders and the Chiefs – the fact that the Blues were able to make any in-roads on them at all is a sign of growth in the side.
In fact, there are plenty of reasons for Blues supporters to remain optimistic.
First five Stephen Perofeta, a man who has looked down on confidence, attacked the line with vigour on Friday night.
When a 10 challenges the defence instead of simply shovelling the ball on, it gives considerably more space and time to his outside backs to work some magic in the wider channels.
Perofeta has spent plenty of time on the sidelines injured and regular game time will do wonders for the man who helped orchestrate the Blues’ historic victory over the British and Irish Lions in 2017.
It was Perfoeta’s audacious chip that sparked the linebreak to eventually create the Blues’ first try – scored by Perofeta after he identified a gap between two front-rowers defending the Crusaders’ line.
After the last three World Cups, the @AllBlacks have immediately brought a new first five into the squad. Ian Foster will struggle to do the same in 2020, writes @TomVinicombe. #SuperRugby https://t.co/QteVpEioHN
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) February 13, 2020
It might not have been the most structured play but it came off nonetheless – and if the ball keeps bouncing Perofeta’s way then he’ll continue to grow into the jersey.
Where Perofeta desperately does need to find some form, however, is kicking for goal.
The Taranaki first five has converted just five of his 12 attempts on goal, which could dearly cost the Blues in the long run.
“It’s a massive work on and I’m trying,” Perofeta told Stuff.
“It’s not a worry, but a confidence thing for me. But it won’t change how I’m practising during the week, how often I’m practising because that’s my job, I’ve got to nail it for the team.
“The better I do that and nail it, the more the team will get out of it.”
With Beauden Barrett due back in mid-April, Perofeta will need to have a solid hold on the 10 jersey if he wants to prevent the All Blacks from taking over.
The other big weakness for the Blues was in their set-piece, with five lineout feeds finding their way into Crusaders’ possession.
Leon MacDonald attributed that to the early loss of lineout caller Josh Goodhue who was left limping around on crutches after the match.
Beauden Barrett is undoubtedly a huge signing for the @BluesRugbyTeam, but there are a number of other playmakers in the side that will need to step up before Barrett arrives late in the @SuperRugby season, writes @TomVinicombe.https://t.co/VxCLFO2vzp#SuperRugby
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) January 5, 2020
The Blues will have to sort out who’s going to take over the calls in Africa with Goodhue unlikely to travel.
The next two weeks will play a massive role in the success of the Blues’ season.
If, however, the Blues arrive back in the country desperate for points against the ever-improving Hurricanes, then their season may well be on tenterhooks before the messiah Beauden Barrett can even make an appearance for his new franchise.
WATCH: RugbyPass put some questions to new All Blacks Coach Ian Foster on Sky Sports show, The Breakdown.
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