More than any of their rivals, the biggest problem the Blues are likely to face in Sky Super Rugby Aotearoa this year is not knowing when their plans can be disrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Events of the last weekend, and earlier in the Northland scare, have shown the need to ‘go fast and go early’ into lockdown can upset even the best-laid plans.
Putting that to the back of their thinking will be the test for the Blues, but having Patrick Tuipulotu at the helm of a strong leadership group will ensure the Blues have the mental toughness to overcome any challenges thrown their way – on or off the field.
Having made significant progress in 2020, despite the loss of so much time, the Blues will be looking to build on that as they head into coach Leon MacDonald’s third year at the helm.
He will have a strong pack to call on with tighthead prop Nepo Laulala’s addition among the front row options a big boost for the side.
Extended competition is assured in the loose forwards where Dillon Hunt has returned home from Dunedin to go head-to-head with Blake Gibson, Dalton Papalii, Tom Robinson, Taine Plumtree, Akira Ioane and Hoskins Sotutu.
One area where the Blues have never lacked excitement is in the backline and that has only been boosted with the additions of Jacob Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens from Taranaki and Zarn Sullivan from Auckland.
Competition for places is assured throughout the backline and that will be a welcome headache for the team management.
It is only the first year of his three-season contract but watch lock Sam Darry take whatever chances he gets with the Blues. A product of the Crusaders Academy, Darry, who also has a rowing background, is a rare catch for a Blues side which has seen many of its prospective players take up opportunities in southern franchises. But Darry, who impressed at schoolboys’ level with Christ’s College, is regarded as having a big future in the game and will be competing with Patrick Tuipulotu, Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, Josh Goodhue and Jacob Pierce for places in the matchday 23.
Saturday February 27: Hurricanes, 7.05 pm, Wellington
Sunday March 14, Highlanders, 3.35 pm, Eden Park
Sunday March 21, Crusaders, 3.35 pm, Eden Park
Friday March 27, Chiefs, 7.05pm, Hamilton
Saturday April 3, Hurricanes, 7.05 pm, Eden Park
Friday April 16, Highlanders, 7.05 pm, Dunedin
Sunday April 25, Crusaders, 3.35 pm, Christchurch
Saturday May 1, Chiefs, 7.05 pm, Eden Park
Forwards: Ray Niuia (Tasman), Kurt Eklund (Bay of Plenty), Soane Vikena (Auckland), Alex Hodgman (Auckland), Nepo Laulala (Counties Manukau), James Lay (Auckland), Marcel Renata (Auckland), Karl Tu’inukuafe (North Harbour), Ofa Tuungafasi (Auckland), Gerard Cowley-Tuioti (North Harbour), Sam Darry (Canterbury), Josh Goodhue (Northland), Jacob Pierce (North Harbour), Patrick Tuipulotu (Auckland), Blake Gibson (Auckland), Dillon Hunt (North Harbour), Akira Ioane (Auckland), Dalton Papalii (Counties Manukau), Taine Plumtree (Wellington), Tom Robinson (Northland), Hoskins Sotutu (Auckland).
Backs: Finlay Christie (Tasman), Sam Nock (Northland), Jonathan Ruru (Auckland), Otere Black (Bay of Plenty), Stephen Perofeta (Taranaki), Harry Plummer (Auckland), TJ Faiane (Auckland), Rieko Ioane (Auckland), Tanielu Tele’a (Auckland), Caleb Clarke (Auckland), AJ Lam (Auckland), Jone Macilai-Tori (Northland), Emoni Narawa (Bay of Plenty), Jacob Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens (Taranaki), Zarn Sullivan (Auckland), Mark Telea (Tasman).