A seven-year away losing streak to Kiwi opposition finally broken, three wins in a row, and Beauden Barrett now formerly into the training setup – what could possibly go wrong for the Blues?
Quite a lot, really.
This is the Blues, after all, and fans would be best suited to err on the side of caution when it comes to hyping up any genuine title aspirations just yet.
The Blues might no longer be the worst of the Kiwi sides in Super Rugby – that title must surely go to the Highlanders based on what has happened so far – but Leon MacDonald and his men are still far from being the best.
What’s exciting, however, is that the last three weeks have shown that the Blues are capable of playing some truly gutsy rugby. Led by their defence, the heart on show last weekend in Wellington was nothing short of outstanding and will leave the Blues believing that they can keep any side in Super Rugby from crossing the chalk in those pressure moments that make or break a result.
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Blues sides of the past would’ve succumbed to the torrent of pressure that the Hurricanes put on, particularly at the start of each half, as was the case in the Blues’ season-opener against the Chiefs.
Since that opening game, they’ve seemingly turned a new leaf.
In the most recent example of pure pressure, three or four tries would’ve been let in during pressured moments in other Blues campaigns but last weekend, they only let in two and managed to score a few times themselves.
But let’s not kid ourselves, the Hurricanes were a shell of their former selves that night. Their leadership was non-existent and their discipline even worse.
Going back to the performances in the Republic, the Blues were indeed firing on all cylinders early against the Stormers, but they also barely scrapped themselves over the line against the Bulls, arguably the worst performing side in the comp this year, thanks to a last-minute penalty.
Whilst those moments can be truly defining for a side trying to pull itself out of the rubble, it doesn’t automatically make the Blues genuine title contenders and any talk of it should be culled immediately.
That’s not what Leon MacDonald and his players need to be hearing right now.
What the message should be to the Blues is this: nothing else matters at this point apart from keeping this streak alive through until April – because that’s when the rubber will really start to meet the road.
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) March 10, 2020
Don’t underestimate how tough it will be for the Blues to beat the Brumbies in two weeks’ time. The Canberra-based side is a team kicking into gear in a big way and they will be relishing their opportunity to return to New Zealand and attempt to repeat what they did against the Chiefs, a feat that if achieved, would be two wins on the trot over Kiwi opposition.
Then, on April 3rd after a bye week, the Blues travel to Christchurch for their second meeting of the year with the Crusaders.
Now, if MacDonald and his men can win that, then we might be cooking with gas.
By that time, Beauden Barrett will be about to lace up the boots after confirming in a press conference this week that his first outing in Blues colours will almost certainly be in the Round 11 clash at home against the Hurricanes. The value that Barrett will add to the team as a whole will be massive when he does finally step out onto the green grass, but what of his role prior to that?
Barrett is officially in camp and training with the squad from now onwards. His existing relationships with Rieko Ioane and Patrick Tuipoloutu have time to be expanded on, but herein lies the challenge that the Blues have consistently found themselves on the losing side of in recent years: getting the processes right behind the scenes in order to get a side on the park capable of winning the big matches.
Barrett’s off-field influence on the squad must certainly be one of the key reasons why the 28-year old was desperately wanted by the Blues.
What’s true is that, right now, the Blues are a side that is humming. Talk of a greater wellbeing has come out of the camp by rugby scribes close to the action and this is something that the arrival of Barrett will only add to.
What’s required from here is results, and the only way that happens is for good decision making by the players on the park, particularly in those pressure moments.
That area of the game has been on the up and up for the Blues in recent weeks.
What will be truly interesting, if the Blues can keep their streak alive and head into the Crusaders clash still on a high, will be how their clearly improved defence can match the absolute mammoth forward pack and overall sound attacking game of the three-time-defending champs.
If we are to engage in predictions for a moment, this season is starting to slowly shape into a similar trajectory that previous ones have. Positioning yourself with the best chance possible, come the playoffs, may well depend on these kiwi sides winning the derby games played away from home – and the Blues still have three of those to come.
All that is certain right now is that the Blues winning regular matches is good for Super Rugby as a whole, but don’t be too quick to patch over the holes that still linger from the past; this is still a team far off being near what’s required to go all the way.
WATCH: Catch up on the highlights from the Blues’ win over the Hurricanes.
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