Blues head coach Leon MacDonald is confident in his side’s ability to turn around three straight losses to secure victory against the Sunwolves at QBE Stadium in Albany on Saturday.
A narrow loss to the Crusaders at Eden Park was followed by back-to-back defeats on the road to the Sharks and Jaguares, and with no victories to speak of, their clash against the touring Japanese side looms as a must-win fixture with the franchise sitting in 13th-place on the standings.
It won’t be easy, though, as the Sunwolves come into the game off the back of their first-ever victory away from home, where they dismantled the Chiefs 30-15 in Hamilton last week.
Compounding the Blues’ on-field woes has been the sudden death of prop Mike Tamoaieta, who passed away while the squad was in Argentina last week.
The team farewelled the popular prop yesterday at his funeral, and playing on his home ground at North Harbour in special commemorative kits in Tamoaieta’s remembrance has added extra motivation for the side to do well.
Despite there being plenty of external pressure being applied on his squad, MacDonald believes it is vital for his side not to cave in and panic.
“I’ve got a lot of confidence in where we’re heading and what we’re doing,” he told Stuff.
“It’s just continuing what we’re doing. I’ve got a lot of trust we’re going to get there.
“We’re through round three of a 16-week competition, so there’s no panic from our end. The solutions are at hand and we’re working hard at them.”
Although they have ended up on the wrong side of the scoreline in their opening three matches, the Blues have showed some promise, particularly in their 24-22 loss at the hands of the Crusaders in Auckland, while they were a disallowed try away from overcoming the Jaguares in Buenos Aires.
“It’s not all dire and, given the circumstances and how tough it is over there, there’s a lot to be positive about,” MacDonald said.
“We’re only a whisker away. That’s the belief we’ve got to take into the next few rounds, knowing we’re not far away at all.”
The Sonny Bill Williams-captained side have welcomed back squad co-captain Blake Gibson, who is set to make his first appearance of the year from openside flanker, while young first-five Harry Plummer has overtaken the struggling Otere Black in the number 10 jersey.
Blues: 1. Karl Tu’inukuafe, 2. James Parsons, 3. Sione Mafileo, 4. Josh Goodhue, 5. Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, 6. Tom Robinson, 7. Blake Gibson, 8. Akira Ioane, 9. Augustine Pulu, 10. Harry Plummer, 11. Rieko Ioane, 12. Sonny Bill Williams (c), 13. TJ Faiane, 14. Tanielu Tele’a, 15. Melani Nanai
Reserves: 16. Matt Moulds, 17. Marcel Renata, 18. Lua Li, 19. Scott Scrafton, 20. Dalton Papalii, 21. Sam Nock, 22. Otere Black, 23. Levia Aumua
Sunwolves: 1. Pauliasi Manu, 2. Atsushi Sakate, 3. Hiroshi Yamashita, 4. Tom Rowe, 5. James Moore, 6. Hendrik Tui, 7. Shuhei Matsuhashi, 8. Rahboni Warren Vosayaco, 9. Jamie Booth, 10. Rikiya Matsuda, 11. Jamie Henry, 12. Michael Little, 13. Jason Emery, 14. Gerhard an den Heever, 15. Semisi Masirewa
Reserves: 16. Nathan Vella, 17. Alex Woonton, 18. Asaeli Ai Valu, 19. Uwe Helu, 20. Dan Pryor, 21. Keisuke Uchida, 22. Hayden Parker, 23. Phil Burleigh
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