Blues aiming to go one step further in 2023

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They also know that the prize is not just a title but a chance for players to confirm a place in the Rugby World Cup squad.

Coach Leon MacDonald said, "There's plenty to play for, the World Cup. A lot of our guys will feel they need a really good season to confirm their place in the All Blacks. There's still a bit of unfinished business.

"We were pleased with last year, but to win the competition is still our ultimate goal. Today's message was we start again."

MacDonald said there was no magic bullet to succeeding. However, over the years, they had got better, and they would strive to continue that process.

"At some point, if you keep asking the right questions you will get the result you want," he said.

With the All Blacks joining the squad for the first time this week, they were trying to get them up to speed as quickly as possible while also introducing them to some new aspects the coaching team had made to their game plans.

"If we just kept on doing what we did last year, we'd probably get the same result which isn't champion."

He confirmed that flanker Dalton Papalii would remain the side's captain, with lock Patrick Tuipulotu and five-eighths Beauden Barrett as his vice-captains.

Papalii had a solid finish to 2022 with the All Blacks, and MacDonald felt he took what he had shown with the Blues to the next level.

"He's behind the All Black captain, so it is easy to step back a little bit and let the skipper run the show, but for him to stand up and grab it like he has, has been awesome. It's a tough position with Ardie [Savea] there as well," he said.

It would be an issue meeting the All Blacks' requirements of time played during the season. Even during the playoffs, they cannot play more than five games in succession.

MacDonald has seen All Black wing Mark Telea, who was given an unexpected elevation to the All Blacks on last year's end-of-season tour, come back with improved confidence.

"He's come back, and he's quite demanding already. I heard some good reports out of the All Blacks of the leadership he showed, so that's a positive. Even today, he expects high standards from those around him. He always delivers that himself first.

"He's a good story of a guy who's got where he's got through hard work. Twelve months ago he couldn't kick the ball – now he can kick with both feet."

MacDonald said he felt Tuipulotu was excited about being back with the Blues.

"There's good energy from him, I think he's pretty motivated to go to the World Cup. He's in good shape physically and quite refreshed after spending some time away."


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