Most Points: Otere Black 42
Most Tries: Mark Telea 5
THE STORY SO FAR
Coming off a share of 12th place in the 2019 campaign, the Blues have shown far more consistency in coach Leon MacDonald's second year with the side. That consistency is especially obvious in their having finally reclaimed the ability to win away from home, having three wins on the road, while also recording an overdue win against a New Zealand side, the Hurricanes. Confidence gained on tour in South Africa has carried to achieving their best start to a campaign in nearly a decade. Not too hamstrung by injuries, the signs were the Blues were going to be a genuine playoffs contender when the competition was suspended.
Little doubt surrounds this one, their 33-14 win over the Stormers in Cape Town. The South Africans had been unbeaten and had demonstrated a highly-effective defensive strategy that some teams had been unable to penetrate. Not the Blues. They came off the high veldt where they had beaten the Bulls with a last-minute penalty goal to catch the Stormers completely off guard while rampaging to a victory achieved with unexpected ease. While the try difference was 3:2, the Stormer's indiscipline let them down with Otere Black able to land four penalty goals. The Blues' own discipline has been one of the characteristics of their overall campaign.
Having done the hard yards in domestic rugby since 2016 with North Harbour, wing Mark Telea had one appearance for the Blues, against the Sunwolves in 2019. Then followed a fine season with North Harbour in the Mitre 10 Cup and inclusion in the full Blues squad. He showed from the opening game that he was ready for the higher level of the game and with his distinctive running style, which teams find hard to counter, he has emerged as a key attacking weapon for the Blues and at the suspension of the competition was their top try scorer. He is first on the competition's list for defenders beaten with 54, 33 ahead of the next player, Shark Aphelele Fassi, second with clean breaks with 14 and metres carried with 559.
THE TASK AHEAD
Whenever Super Rugby resumes, under whatever format, the challenge for the Blues is to maintain the momentum they have developed. If there was one clear demonstration of the growth of understanding in the side's performance it was in the try scored by lock Gerard Cowley-Tuioti in their last win over the Lions at Eden Park. Started in their own half when flanker Dalton Papalii recovered a clearing kick, beat a tackle and then ran the ball back with input from, halfback Sam Nock, wing Matt Duffy, No 8 Hoskins Sotutu, second five-eighths TJ Faiane and finally Cowley-Tuioti. That showed a level of group commitment that hasn't been seen for years in the side.
The resurgence in All Black Rieko Ioane, playing at centre. The ease with which Stephen Perofeta has brought his attacking game to fullback. The assurance of Otere Black at first five-eighths. The combination developing between Sotutu, Papalii and Blake Gibson in the loose and the leadership of lock Patrick Tuipulotu who has taken his game to another level.