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Senior hooker says continuity puts Blues in good stead ahead of Super season

By Tom Vinicombe
Kurt Eklund. (Photo by Andrew Cornaga/Photosport)

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The Blues will head into the coming Super Rugby Pacific season knowing that it will take a monumental effort to continue their success from last year’s Trans-Tasman tournament, where they earned their first silverware in almost two decades by defeating the Highlanders 23-15 in the competition final.

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Some fans – primarily from the Canterbury region – have suggested that the Trans-Tasman title counts for little, given the Blues only had to beat one fellow NZ team throughout the campaign to land the trophy. That kind of talk will only further fuel the Blues’ ambitions in 2022, however, and they’ve entered the year with a team that remains mostly in tact following the successes of 2020.

There have been some knocks in the second row, with Patrick Tuipulotu, Gerard Cowley-Tuioti and Jacob Pierce all taking their talents to Japan, while Otere Black was a key figure at first five throughout last year’s campaign. Thankfully, those losses have been somewhat offset by the arrival of experienced Crusader Luke Romano and the return of All Blacks pivot Beauden Barrett.

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A Lion and a Wasp feature on the latest episode of The Offload.
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A Lion and a Wasp feature on the latest episode of The Offload.

Elsewhere throughout the team, consistency is the name of the game – although the additions of Caleb Clarke and Roger Tuivasa-Sheck won’t harm the Blues’ chances either.

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Speaking ahead of the season, hooker Kurt Eklund has suggested that it’s taken the side no time at all to gel thanks to the work that’s been done over the past few years – which should put the Blues in good stead going into their Round One clash with Moana Pasifika next month.

“I notice this year we picked up really quickly from where we left things,” Eklund said. “There’s a good core group of people here and not a hell of a lot has changed.

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“I think we’re getting used to how everyone plays and you get those combinations going and things like that. I think it makes it a lot easier, especially in the early stages of the season.”

“Everyone’s pretty excited, you know? There’s a bit of momentum off the back of last year. People say [winning Trans-Tasman was] a bit like kissing your cousin but we’ll take it. It’s still a trophy that we got to hold up and put in the cabinet. We loved it and if we can just keep building off of that then we will, for sure.”

2022 will mark Eklund’s third season of Super Rugby and while he’s certainly earned the most Blues caps of any of the current hooking contingent in the squad, with 24 to his name, the arrival of Hurricanes rake Ricky Riccitelli, who’s featured in 71 Super matches throughout his career, should add some solid competition to a group that also features Under 20s star Soane Vikena.

“I’m not sure about [being the senior hooker],” Eklund said. “I’m just floating round. There’s some good hookers in here, Soane [Vikena] and Ricky [Riccitelli]. We all get along really well and we’re pushing each other to be better and helping each other where we can. It’s going well. I’m enjoying it, I think they are too, by the looks of things.”

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The 2022 season kicks off in late February with the Blues heading to Mt Smart Stadium to take on new side Moana Pasifika in the opening match.

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