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Mid-year report card: Blues

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Lynn McConnell     21 Jun 2018     Getty Images

Played: 13
Won: 3
Lost: 10

Position: Fifth in New Zealand conference and fourteenth overall.
Leading point scorer: Stephen Perofeta (72)
Leading try scorer: Akira Ioane (7)

THE STORY SO FAR

It's a measure of the enigmatic qualities of the Blues that of their three successes this year they have all been away from home and include a victory over the potential finalists from South Africa, the Lions. Winning at Ellis Park is never easy but the Blues unleashed in March to achieve a come-from-behind 38-35 win. It was no surprise they beat the Sunwolves in Tokyo but Australians sensed a chance for a win over a New Zealand team when the Waratahs hosted the Blues only to lose 21-24. The franchise has committed to Tana Umaga as coach and in the remainder of the season will be playing for contracts as much as pride.

QUICK TAP: MID-YEAR REPORT CARD - THE HURRICANES

BEST PERFORMANCE
That win in Johannesburg has to stand out. They had lost their first two games against the Highlanders (34-41) and the Chiefs (21-27) but then found something extra to upset the beaten finalists from last year. Rieko Ioane scored twice, brother Akira once while Jimmy Tupou and Murphy Taramai also crossed for tries. Both teams scored five tries in a thrilling contest and in the end the difference was a Bryn Gatland penalty goal. But regaining the spirit and skill that won that game has been elusive.


BREAKOUT STAR
Rieko Ioane continues to be the key player for the side. He's scored seven tries but has rarely featured in his specialist position on the left wing. However, he has demonstrated his flexibility by appearing at both second five-eighths and centre and has been a handful for opponents in both roles. But if the Blues are at full strength he remains his most potent on the wing. Challenging for consideration was Dalton Papalii something of a dynamo in the loose although not an original inclusion in the side. With pressure on when Blake Gibson returns from injury there could be some fireworks in the loose in the future.

WHAT'S NEXT

A tougher finish could not be imagined for the Blues whose first game back is their last at home, against the Reds, followed by return games against the Hurricanes and Crusaders.

ROUND 17: Blues v Reds, 7.35pm, Friday June 29, Eden Park, Auckland
ROUND 18: Hurricanes v Blues, 7.35pm, Saturday July 7, Westpac Stadium, Wellington
ROUND 19: Crusaders v Blues, 7.35pm, Saturday July 14, AMI Stadium, Christchurch

PREDICTION
Twenty points off the pace at the bottom of the New Zealand Conference it is all uphill for the Blues. However, having had a month off should allow the side to regain something like full strength with players returning from injury and that may be enough to suggest an improvement ahead of next season. Knowing that contracts are on the line could be a powerful incentive but it will take significant upsets for the Blues to improve their position. The fact that both the Hurricanes and Crusaders will be conscious of their need for bonus point wins to secure home playoff berths will make their job even harder.