Making a good start is always important in Investec Super Rugby, but it carries extra importance for the Blues as they set out on another campaign to regain some of their former glory.
Coach Tana Umaga was happy with where the side was at ahead of Thursday’s competition opener against the Rebels in Melbourne.
“The group are pretty committed to starting well, and doing well. They know there’s a lot of competition and a lot of people coming back that have got reputations so they want to put their best foot forward so they can stay where they are,” he said.
Umaga said the choice of backline for the Rebels was reward for those players who had shown form and worked hard in pre-season and management were conscious of rewarding that, while George Moala and Rene Ranger, who are on the bench, were coming back from injury.
“These guys have really stepped up and that is the side that we thought would represent us the best,” he said.
He was pleased with the shape prop Charlie Faumuina was in when joining the side after the All Blacks tour and he had forced his way onto the bench for the game by doing everything he had to do on the protocols he had to follow.
Faumuina said he tweaked his knee in the last five minutes of the warm-up game against the Chiefs and while bracketed in the team announcement he was confident he would play against the Rebels.
He had been pleased with the scrummaging effort against the Chiefs.
“It’s something we wanted to really focus on this year. There’s some big forward packs out there but [I’m] really happy with how we’ve gone so far in the pre-season.
“We need to set the platform this year and I think that starts with us in the tight five and really taking it to teams and winning that battle so we can get these guys [the backs] some good ball,” he said.
The recruitment of loosehead prop Pauliasi Manu had been good for the team, he said. He had been around for a long time in other teams and he was bringing that experience to the Blues and it was working well.
Faumuina said the feeling around the Blues heading into the campaign was good and during the pre-season a good base had been set with players like Augustine Pulu making their mark and setting a good standard.
Pulu said there were different personalities with the Blues compared to the Chiefs but he was enjoying the Auckland experience and was looking forward to doing his core roles well while working with the talent he said is in the backline outside him.
He said he was looking forward to working with first five-eighths Ihaia West, who was a player with plenty of ability, and building on that through the season.
The Blues team is: 1.Pauliasi Manu, 2.Matt Moulds, 3.Sione Mafileo, 4.Jimmy Tupou (captain), 5.Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, 6.Steven Luatua, 7.Blake Gibson, 8.Akira Ioane, 9.Augustine Pulu, 10.Ihaia West, 11.Melani Nanai, 12.Piers Francis, 13.Rieko Ioane, 14.Matt Duffie, 15.Michael Collins.
Substitutes: 16.Hame Faiva, 17.Alex Hodgman, 18.Charlie Faumuina/Ofa Tu’ungafasi, 19.Scott Scrafton, 20.Murphy Taramai, 21.Sam Nock, 22.Geoge Moala, 23.Rene Ranger.