Mealamu believes Blues have the goods
All Blacks and Blues hooker Keven Mealamu believes the Auckland-based combination that has been assembled this year has the makings of a highly-competitive unit in Super Rugby.
Mealamu has been through enough season starts to know that it is early days yet to be calling a likely outcome but he says if the enthusiasm generated so far is carried into performance then the rewards will be promising.
One of the benefits Mealamu will bring to the side is his experience up front, where he has been able to get a good feel for what is happening around the world in relation to the changed scrum laws.
All sides had been looking for their own peculiar advantages, he said, but he said there was consistency missing in a lot of side's scrummaging.
"I don't know if there were any teams that went through their competition on top of the other teams the whole time. It just takes half an inch off and you are out of it so I think it is something everyone is working on just to try and get a bit of edge and get ahead of everyone.
"But if you can really get some good consistency that is something you can really get some good set phase off because at the moment there is pressure on the 9s [halfbacks] to get clean ball out so I think it is still a work in progress for everyone," he said.
The changes had put a lot more demands on the lower body. Whereas before the emphasis on big hits at contact had quite an effect on the necks of players, now there was a lot more pressure going through the calves, quads and hamstrings of players, he said.
But Mealamu comes into the new season having absorbed the lessons and feeling good for what lies ahead.
"I had a really good break, a good chance to get the body back into one piece and I'm really motivated and looking forward to this season.
Mealamu said his long time hooking mate Andrew Hore, who retired at the end of the All Blacks tour last year, would be sorely missed not only as a player but with his character around the team.
That left Mealamu with the senior pro's role in the side, facing a prospectively heavy workload, but with the responsibility of mentoring some of the younger hooking contenders around the scene.
"I think we've got quite a few young guys who have got a couple of years under their belt now really looking to come through and I think the competition is definitely there, it's just a matter of who is going to put their hand up, and we are all looking to put our hand up," he said.
Mealamu said the style the All Blacks unleashed last year had been very enjoyable not only for allowing the players to show off their skills but by utilising speed and fitness across the squad.
"If anything I think everyone will be looking to repeat that and go to another level this year," he said.
"It will be really tough work to make sure we can back that up again, and then get even better.
"Even tight forwards found themselves in a bit of space so being able to nail the skill set it takes to play that sort of game you have to add that into part of your week as well.
"It used to be scrums, lineouts and kick-offs, now it is about being able to catch a ball in front of you, draw and pass which all rugby players should be able to do but are not always able to," he said.
While all opponents would analyse the style, it wasn't just a case of them suddenly being able to change direction to play like the All Blacks. It was necessary to have the players capable of playing that style of game.
"Because tight forwards have to be able to have those sorts of skills, you have to train it to be able to do it," he said.
"We put the time in during the week to be able to play like that at weekends and we do put a lot of time and work into it so it won't come overnight but when you are able to do it it is such a good game to watch and such a good game to be part of as well," he said.