Sportal.co.nz 22.Aug.2012Getty Images
Following a dismal Super Rugby season, Auckland's provincial coach Wayne Pivac said that his team, consisting of 14 Blues players, had fared well during the pre-season and looked ready for a 'fresh start.'
Hit-outs against the All Blacks, Counties-Manukau and Northland gave Pivac's men the time needed to form crucial combinations and come to grips with a 'simplistic game plan.'
"Certainly over the last ten days or so things have come together," said Pivac.
"The young guys are amping, they want to get out there and get their first taste.
"Obviously the guys that have been there before, guys who have been part of that Blues set up are looking for a fresh start."
Despite its numerous Super Rugby players, Pivac's squad - with an average age of 22 years old - is relatively inexperienced. Yet he is confident this season will see a new generation of leaders step up to the mark.
"You've got Daniel [Braid], you've got Andrew Van Der Heijden who has played in England, he has also played a lot of rugby in New Zealand ... and then when you look at the likes of Steven Luatua and Liaki Moli, they've played enough rugby now and they're genuine leaders in their own right," said Pivac.
With locks Ali Williams, Brad Mika and Josh Townsend all unavailable due to injury, Auckland's stocks of tall timber have worn thin forcing flankers Luatua and Nathan Hughes to cover the tight five.
"What we lack in height, we more than make up for with a bit of explosiveness in the lineouts and other set pieces," insisted Van Der Heijden.
No doubt explosives will be needed to move a rock-solid Magpies scrum anchored by behemoth prop Ben Tameifuna.
But with Charlie Faumuina released from All Blacks training camp, Pivac is confident his pack will be up for to the task.
"Hika Elliot and [Ben] Tameifuna are very strong, that's something we're aware of and Charlie will certainly help us in that area'" Pivac said.
Counting down to a 'hectic' start to the season, which includes a trip to Canterbury, Pivac said his decision to take his side's pre-season on the road had prepared them well.
"If we can get through those first two weeks it will set us up really well. If we don't then we're going to be chasing the pack so it's very important that we get a good start."