Blues still to find balance
Year one has been a rollercoaster for Sir John Kirwan at the helm of the Blues.
The last two weeks have been spent plummeting towards earth, and, on Saturday, there could be a tremendous thud as they hit solid ground in a season-ending match against the Chiefs at Eden Park.
It's been frustrating to watch. Especially for Kirwan, whose animated half-time rants are a reflection of the passion that now exists within the franchise.
But what his youthful side boasts in terms of energy and enthusiasm, they have, at times, lacked in tactical nous and understanding of game situations.
Kirwan revealed his cards when he attempted to recruit league star Benji Marshall, who is thought to be best suited to wearing No 10 in the 15-man code.
Chiefs pivot Aaron Cruden has observed the situation from his base further south on State Highway 1 and has put his support behind Chris Noakes and Baden Kerr, who stand to be replaced if Kirwan snares a high-profile play-maker in the off-season.
Seven months ago the pair were introduced to the likes of Charles Piutau and Frank Halai, with whom they have slowly begun to build the instinctive partnerships that team chemistry is built on.
Cruden admits the cohesion they so desperately seek won't come overnight but expects their progress to correlate with the amount of time spent with the team as a unit.
"I've been really impressed with what they've done with such a young side," Cruden told Sportal.
"I think they're probably trying to find that balance - knowing when to attack, when to bring their exciting guys into the game but then at the same time playing that territory game or grafting with their forwards.
"It's just time in the saddle. Not only the five-eighths but the whole squad - some of them are relatively young to this level of rugby.
"This year will be a great learning curve for them."
Cruden has taken his game to a new level with his franchise and the All Blacks this year.
Wrapping up the Steinlager Test series against France with a decisive performance in Christchurch, he took a giant step out from the shadow of his mentor, Dan Carter.
On Saturday he plans to use his last chance to pull out a master class performance before the pressure of finals rugby is placed on his shoulders in coming weeks.
Last week's embarrassing 15-43 loss to the Crusaders has also provided extra motivation at training this week.
"The coaches have been letting us know that we did get our arses handed to us," he said.
"The boys just want to put a bit of pride back into the jersey and show our fans that we are here to be title contenders again."
Chiefs co-captain Liam Messam sat out while the team honed their game plan on Tuesday but is expected to return from a lower back injury on Saturday.
Centre Charlie Ngatai limped along the sidelines in a moon boot and will have scans this to determine the extent of the damage.
Flanker Sam Cane passed his baseline concussion test, but won't be risked unnecessarily with Tanerau Latimer having already filled in on the openside numerous occasions this year.