The Blues have inched forward in the last two seasons but will this be the year they take a quantum leap and learn how to win pressure games against NZ sides?
THE BLUES HAVE SLOWLY IMPROVED IN THE LAST TWO YEARS BUT THEY NEED TO FIND A WAY TO WIN THE BIG MOMENTS IN THE BIG GAMES.
FINDING A WAY TO WIN THE BIG MOMENTS
It wasn’t a breakthrough year for the Blues in 2017, more a continuation of what Tana Umaga has been building at the franchise since he started the year before.
It will take time yet because he inherited a bit of a shambles but there were some green shoots of growth. On a positive note, the message appeared to get through in his first year and again last year, apart from some disasters, most notably the thrashing at the hands of the Sunwolves in Tokyo in the team’s last match of the season.
It was all the more shameful because their match before that was a remarkable victory over the British & Irish Lions at Eden Park, a win which almost made up for the fact that they didn’t make the playoffs. That’s been a recurring theme since 2011 but the way they played in front of a full and vocal crowd against the Lions suggests they have the players to make it, and yet that has often not been the case.
For whatever reason, they haven’t been able to convert that talent into results. At their best the Blues can play with an intoxicating free-flowing style that would have any team in the world in trouble.
They have a good pack, including loose forwards Jerome Kaino and Akira Ioane and tight forwards Patrick Tuipulotu and Ofa Tu’ungafasi, and a good set piece.
Their real strength is their backline, though, and in particular their outside backs Rieko Ioane, Matt Duffie and Melani Nanai.
The key, as always for the Blues and Umaga has mentioned it again, is for them to keep concentration throughout matches, to win the big moments and not clock off. Do that consistently and they should sneak into the playoffs.
It’s high time they did and if their first-fives Stephen Perofeta and Bryn Gatland consistently perform well they might just do it.