Umaga believes Blues can advance in 2020

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Umaga said upon reflection the Blues felt they were not far off doing better in a lot of their games in 2019 and they believed conditioning would be part of an improvement. Phil Healy had done a fine job in setting fitness programmes for the side this year and they were fitter than they had been before.


"Our All Blacks and our captain [Patrick Tuipulotu] have come back in great nick so that's a testament to themselves and the programme they've been put on but also it shows that they want to make a difference here and that we want to improve. We can't keep saying we're not far away," he said.


What needed to happen this year was for the side to show the ability to work under fatigue and under pressure and to take advantage of the good things they did so they were not always saying 'Close, but not close enough,' he said.


Umaga said one of the big areas of attention for the Blues had been their tackle height and that had proven its worth in the lack of penalties for those in their warm-up game with the Chiefs last week.


"I think that bodes well but it is something you just can't take for granted. We've just got to make sure we're doing everything we can to keep in the good books of the referees," he said.

The Rugby World Cup and the way in which the referees had made their points early in pool play had been an example for the Blues to learn from. There were a lot of cards in pool play but that had settled down once sides realised what the referees wanted.


He expected that would be the same in Super Rugby.


Sole captain lock Tuipulotu had flourished since he had been named captain and he had taken it upon himself to pull the group forward.


"He's put himself to the forefront of everything, making sure that if he's at the forefront, everyone is with him. He's very determined, he's shown that every day we're out here," he said.


The side's first five-eighths, Stephen Perofeta, Otere Black and Harry Plummer were keen to be more than gap fillers until two time World Rugby player of the year Beauden Barrett joins the side in April.


"They're responding great," Umaga said.


"They realise they've got one of the best players in the world coming here and they can see the standards he sets so they want to make sure they get the game time before he gets here but also that it's not just a walk in ride for him that he's going to be No.1. They want to make sure that he's got to work for it and fight for everything he's got.


"There's a lot of rugby to be played before Beauden gets here so we've got to make sure those guys are showing the best of themselves in running this team the best they can," he said.


They had all presented themselves well because they knew what was ahead and having players respond to challenges was what the coaching group were wanting to see.


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