Super Blues take South Africa by storm to head the Super 14 pack
Well, the 2008 Rebel Sport Super 14 season has started, and so far the Blues have hit the ground running. We are heading into week four and after three games the Blues are unbeaten and leading the table with a maximum 15 points, a point ahead of the also unbeaten and multiple Super Rugby title-winning Crusaders.
The Blues started the season with a comprehensive home victory against early-season favourites, the Chiefs, winning 32-14 and outscoring them four tries to one. It’s the Blues' second win in a row over the Chiefs, after beating them last season in Hamilton. After the game at Eden Park in Auckland, I caught up with Blues prop and proud new dad John Afoa.
He was glad to have a winning start to the 2008 season, and it was even better to win at home against a Chiefs side who in the past have always been physically strong and taken the game to the Blues. This year was going to be different for the home side. They picked a team capable of outclassing the Chiefs from the kick-off.
The Blues forward pack were all over the visitors – Jerome Kaino, Justin Collins and Nick Williams (6 , 7, & 8 for the Blues), had the measure of Chiefs’ players Liam Messam, Tanerau Latimer and Sione Lauaki. Whenever the trio from the Chiefs had ball in hand the Blues defence was blatantly “staunch”, not letting tackles fall off and getting the odd turnover of possession.
The ELV laws also had a major part in the final outcome, resulting in at least two of the Blues four tries.
Speaking to Richard Kahui (Chiefs’ midfielder) after the game, I asked what they would do differently if they could play the game again, and his answer was a simple one: “Score more points than the Blues.”
Since that game, the Blues have played two further matches, both in South Africa, and both resulting in very impressive wins, beating both the Lions at Ellis Park 55-10, and the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein 50-26. In the two games the Blues amassed 14 tries. They have scored 137 points from their three games so far this season and have had 50 scored against them.
There is just one more game for the Blues in South Africa this season and it is this weekend against the Sharks in the cauldron of Durban. Not an easy place to play, let alone win. The one thing the Blues have going for them leading into Sunday morning’s match is CONFIDENCE.
Winning all of their first three games, and winning two in the Republic by record margins, will do wonders for the side. They have only one injury concern – star playmaker Isa Nacewa is heading home after suffering a nasty knee injury while attempting to prevent a Cheetahs player scoring a try. The Blues won’t lose any pace, though, as the flying David Smith has flown out to South Africa to join the squad.
Although the squad has not been named yet, my guess is that Isaia Toeava will slot into the vacant fullback jersey, Smith will partner Joe Rokocoko on the wing, while Anthony Tuitavake or Ben Atiga will partner Benson Stanley in the midfield. Another option is to put Atiga in at 15, and have Toeava and Stanley in the midfield.
When asked whether heading to South Africa earlier in the season would benefit the Blues – as they historically go there at end of season when the players are injured and/or tired – Afoa responded: “Yeah, definitely – if we can win over there and get max points from at least two games, it will set us up for the run of home games we have when we return.”
After South Africa, the Blues play the Force, coached by John Mitchell, at Albany Stadium on the North Shore in Auckland, followed by two games at Eden Park against the Stormers and last year’s Super 14 champions The Bulls.
Later in the season, I am heading to Christchurch to cover the Crusaders v Blues at AMI Stadium – if the form these two sides are showing now is anything to go by, the game will be an absolute ripper.
The Blues beat the Crusaders last season at Eden Park, but if they can take some confidence from when Auckland’s Air New Zealand Cup side travelled there last season and lifted the Rannfurly Shield from the Red ’n’ Blacks, then the Blues could take it out. They have the backline and the forwards to win the game.
I will be hoping to get interviews with Dan Carter and Nick Evans, two players vying for the coveted All Blacks’ No.10 jersey.