NZ Rugby World
Building on the Belief
After years of underperformance, the Blues finally turned the corner in
2020 with a series of results over a long period that suggest they will be the Crusaders’ main challengers this year.
They were a changed team in the early part of the season before it was halted by the coronavirus. They lost a close one to the Chiefs first up, beat the Waratahs in Sydney, lost to the Crusaders at home but then defied most pundits by winning both their games in South Africa against the Bulls and Stormers before the greatest surprise of all: a 24-15 victory over the Hurricanes in Wellington on their return.
The Hurricanes triumph was their first away from home against a Kiwi team since 2013. It broke a derby losing streak of 25 matches, and they followed it up with a crushing win over the Lions at
Eden Park just before the season was halted and then cancelled due to the pandemic.
Rather than dwelling on what might have been as they entered Super Rugby Aotearoa, however, the Blues resumed their excellent form, winning five matches and losing only two.
Their final game of the season against the Crusaders at Eden Park, which would have attracted a near sell-out crowd, was cancelled due to
New Zealand’s lockdown, but they finished an excellent second in the competition.
Woeful record against Kiwi teams now conquered, the Blues will be optimistic about what they can achieve this year.
Their set piece was vastly improved, with skipper Patrick Tuipulotu an inspirational figure, wing Mark Telea an excellent find and Caleb Clarke a big mover on the other wing. Their defence was far better and they worked hard for each other.
Simply put, they were a hard team to beat, and that hasn’t been the case in a decade or more. Beauden Barrett’s influence, first from fullback and then at first-five following Otere Black’s injury, was undeniable. Unfortunately for the Blues, Barrett is in Japan this year.