Just when the Blues need their talismanic captain the most, fate’s had other ideas.
Having started the season with two comfortable victories over the Highlanders and Hurricanes, expectations were that the Blues would again be the one side that could challenge the Crusaders for Super Rugby Aotearoa supremacy.
A month later, and the Auckland side have recorded just one further win from their subsequent four matches and are in serious jeopardy of missing out on a spot in the final to the high-flying Chiefs.
Captain Patrick Tuipulotu has been sidelined for the past two games, a second victory over the Hurricanes and a surprise defeat at the hands of the Highlanders, which has seen the side drop to third on the ladder with just two rounds to play.
Ahead of Saturday’s crunch game with the Crusaders, it appears that Tuipulotu will again be a key absence for the travelling Blues thanks to the lingering shoulder injury he suffered in his side’s loss to the Chiefs.
“It’s not good but it’s one of those things you can’t put a timeframe on,” Tuipulotu told the New Zealand Herald. “I’m just waiting until it feels right but it’s certainly taking its time. I’m not trying to rush back into anything. I want to get it right.”
Flanker-cum-lock Tom Robinson took over the captain’s armband in Tuipulotu’s absence but was on the field for limited minutes last weekend before taking a blow to the head. He, along with second-rower Josh Goodhue are also unlikely to feature against the Crusaders.
That leaves TJ Faiane – the Blues’ midfield glue – as the likely captain, but he’s had injury troubles of his own this year.
Regardless of who takes over the on-field leadership duties, Tuipulotu and the fellow senior players in the side have naturally had an active role in trying to right the ship on the training pitch with the 35-cap All Black identifying some key areas where the Blues have been well below standard.
“Our penalty count is ridiculous,” he said. “We can’t operate with those numbers. If we sort that out we can play well but we’re not getting our proper game going.
“I’m not happy with our scrum – it’s not going forward enough for us to play off and the same thing with our lineout. We’re struggling to win some good ball and when we’re mauling we’re not really getting good pay out of it. When you pull all those things together it adds up to not good performances.”
The Blues team to take on the Crusaders will be named on Friday with the match between the two traditional rivals set to kick off at 3:35pm NZT on Sunday afternoon.
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