The fall and rise of the Blues' All Blacks replacement
When the Bay of Plenty hooker was signed for the year, he would have expected to spend much of the season playing second-fiddle to All Black James Parsons.
Injuries marred Parsons’ campaign, however, and by the end of Super Rugby Aotearoa, Eklund had notched 13 appearances, featuring in all but two of the Blues’ matches.
Following Parsons’ season-ending concussion in the latter stages of the season, Eklund took over as the Blues’ first-choice hooker and started in their three final matches – it was the perfect end to the campaign for the 29-year-old.
Given the above, you could have been forgiven for scratching your head when the Blues announced their squad for 2021 and Eklund was absent.
Fortunately for Eklund, the uncertainty surrounding Parsons’ involvement meant that he was kept on as an injury replacement – but it still seemed like a tough call given Eklund’s performances throughout the year.
The truth of the matter was that because Parsons and Niuia had a year to go on their contracts, and Blues Development Player of the Year Vikena had been locked in on a long-term deal, there simply wasn’t the space to accommodate Eklund.
It was hardly just rewards and in a fair world, Eklund would have been a permanent fixture for 2021. To their credit, the Blues locked Eklund in for 2022 and 2023 – at least securing the hooker’s long-term future.
In a new twist, Parsons’ recent decision to retire from the game has seen Eklund brought back into the squad on a fulltime contract – and it would come as no surprise if the Bay of Plenty rake is called upon to start in the Blues’ opening fixture of the year against the Hurricanes.
While Eklund had an offer on the table from the Melbourne Rebels in Australia, his decision to remain in New Zealand has been justly rewarded and should see the 29-year-old once again accrue plenty of minutes in Super Rugby Aotearoa.
“It has all worked out well for me,” Eklund said of the new developments. “Obviously it’s sad for James to be forced to retire. I learned so much from him last year.
“I have my chance now and I will take it with both hands. I owe it to James to be the best I can be – because he has left some big shoes to fill both on and off the field.”
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