Clubs step up to help the Blues get prepared

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With Auckland going into a three-day Level Three lockdown on Sunday, the Blues plans to hold a Rugby Fest at Eden Park with the main attraction being a replay of last year's Super Rugby Aotearoa finale with the Crusaders were cancelled.


It appeared that would also deny the Blues any chance of another pre-season game, especially if the alert level remained at Level Three. However, the drop to Level Two, for Auckland, meant the Blues could travel into Level One zones.


That saw the Gallagher Chiefs step in and offer to host both the Blues and Crusaders.


Coach Leon MacDonald said, "Things were not looking good for us as we have been unable to train as a team, so this is a real lifeline and vital as we try to make up time before the start of the competition.


"We are humbled by the support we have received, especially for the Chiefs' offer to hose us and for the Crusaders who have been so supportive through this entire pre-season upheaval."


MacDonald said there had been a 'massive sigh of relief' when Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced Auckland would drop to Level Two on the alert scale.


"We have got the America's Cup in Auckland, and we were feeling a little bit like a boat at the starting blocks, down off the foils and everyone else is taking off through the gates and down the road," he said.

The team were able to train on Thursday morning for the first time in the week and there had been a lot of relief while unleashing pent-up energy, he said.


Returning to preparation for a game was important because the Blues' returning All Blacks had only been with the team a week before they went into lockdown.


The scheduled game against the Crusaders was targeted as a time to get some good minutes into them before Sky Super Rugby Aotearoa starts next week.


"It is not ideal, but it is not the end of the world either.


"Often you have injuries and the week for a lot of players could start on a Thursday anyway," he said.


"We are looking on the bright side – the fact we are on the grass today is a massive relief and we have got to bring a lot of energy the next two days to catch up."


The arrangement to play the game of three halves solved the lack of another game for the Chiefs who offered to host both the Blues and the Crusaders.

Chiefs interim head coach Clayton McMillan welcomed the playing windfall. His side had been looking to play an in-house game over the weekend.


"Our preference from the get-go would have been to have a hit-out this weekend anyway, we just were not able to pull that together," he said.


"Now circumstances have changed and we have got that game.


"In some respects, if we can get our boys to belt other teams as much as they belt each other, we will probably end up winning a few games. It is nice to play two quality teams are part of our pre-season," he said.


The Chiefs will have time to recover as well as they have the bye in the first week.


Working together, with rugby to the forefront, was one of the by-products of last season's experience in the pandemic as Crusaders' chief executive Colin Mansbridge highlighted.


"In the end, [the game of three halves] it was the most practical arrangement. We had lots of contingencies, given lots of potential situations, but it became clear Hamilton was going to be the best bet when you consolidated all those potentials," he said.


"There is compromise, and a bit of a cost for everyone, when you have to do these things. But if you keep putting footy at the front of it and the fans, you get there in the end," he said.


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