While the Blues are no strangers to pre-season headlines and big-name signings, there is renewed optimism among Blues fans that they could be a real force in the New Zealand-only competition despite not winning a title since 2003.
While Barrett and Carter bring star-power and proven class to the table, the Blues showed prior to the original season being suspended due to the Covid-19 Pandemic that they are cut from a different cloth to their under-performing predecessors.
When play was suspended after seven rounds, the Blues had notched five victories and stood at second place on the New Zealand conference.
They showed great heart to win two games on the road in South Africa and made shockwaves with a dominant win over the Hurricanes in Wellington.
Patrick Tuipulotu’s emergence as a leader and the game-breaking ability of rookie Mark Telea were two key elements in their early season success.
While the grind of eight New Zealand derbies in 10 weeks will weigh heavy on a team that has struggled against New Zealand opposition in recent years, there is every sign that this team is equipped to handle the intense pressure that Investec Super Rugby Aotearoa will bring.
Featuring in all seven on the Blues fixtures before the Covid-19 enforced suspension of the season, flying left wing Mark Telea was an absolute revelation. The 23-year-old looked dangerous every time he touched the ball and led the Blues attacking statistics with five tries scored, 54 defenders beaten and 559 running metres made. Telea also showed his ability to create something from nothing in their last game against Lions when he split the defence with a searing fifty metre run before finding Stephen Perofeta for the try.
Not knowing who to select in a position is a great problem to have, and one that the Blues have in a couple of positions. At first five-eighth the Blues are blessed with Beauden Barrett, Otere Black, Dan Carter and impressive youngster Harry Plummer all able to pull on the 10 jersey. While it seems from the outside that Barrett will be the first choice with Carter taking on a utility role, don’t rule out Otere Black from pushing Barrett for the starting spot. Black showed his class with a dominant performance in the Blues 24-15 win over the Hurricanes in March and will be keen to show that he is a genuine match-winner. The make up of the outside backs will also cause headaches for Leon MacDonald and his selection panel with Mark Telea, Caleb Clarke, Matt Duffie, Emoni Narawa and Rieko Ioane all vying for positions in the back three.
The Blues will come into Investec Super Rugby Aotearoa full of confidence from their early season form and buoyed by the addition of Beauden Barrett and Dan Carter to their squad. One of the team’s biggest issues in recent years has been to win against New Zealand opposition away from home. If they manage to overcome that and lift the inaugural Investec Super Rugby Aotearoa crown they will look back at their victory over the Hurricanes in March as a real turning point.
14 June: Blues v Hurricanes, Eden Park
20 June: Blues v Chiefs, FMG Stadium Waikato
27 June: Blues v Highlanders, Eden Park
11 July: Blues v Crusaders, Orangetheory Stadium
18 July: Blues v Hurricanes, Sky Stadium
26 July: Blues v Chiefs, Eden Park
2 August: Blues v Highlanders, Forsyth Barr Stadium
16 August: Blues v Crusaders, Eden Park
Alex Hodgman, Ezekiel Lindenmuth, Sione Mafileo, Marcel Renata, Karl Tu'inukuafe, Ofa Tu'ungafasi, James Parsons, Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, Josh Goodhue, Jacob Pierce, Patrick Tuipulotu, Tom Robinson, Blake Gibson, Akira Ioane, Dalton Papalii, Hoskins Sotutu, Sam Nock, Jonathan Ruru, Otere Black, Stephen Perofeta, Harry Plummer, TJ Faiane, Tamati Tua, Caleb Clarke, Matt Duffie, Rieko Ioane, Beauden Barrett, Findlay Christie, Kurt Eklund, Tony Lamborn, Emoni Narawa, Luteru Tolai, Mark Telea, Aaron Carroll, Joe Marchant, Jack Heighton, Waimana Reidlinger-Kapa, Jordan Hyland, Jared Page, Dan Carter (injury replacement).