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Team Preview: The Blues

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allblacks.com     13 Feb 2018     Getty Images

Home: Eden Park
Last Season: Ninth

Squad:
Leni Apisai, Otere Black, Caleb Clarke, Michael Collins, Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, Matt Duffie, TJ Faiane, Bryn Gatland, Blake Gibson, Josh Goodhue, Alex Hodgman, Akira Ioane, Rieko Ioane, Matt Johnson, Jerome Kaino, Daniel Kirkpatrick, Sione Mafileo, Pauliasi Manu, George Moala, Matt Moulds, Melani Nanai, Sam Nock, Dalton Papali'i, James Parsons, Stephen Perofeta, Glen Preston, Kara Pryor, Augustine Pulu (captain), Jonathan Ruru, Isaac Salmon, Scott Scrafton, Michael Tamoaieta, Murphy Taramai, Jordan Trainor, Tamati Tua, Patrick Tuipulotu, Jimmy Tupou, Ofa Tu'ungafasi, Sonny Bill Williams.

QUICK TAP: DON'T MISS A THINK AS SUPER RUGBY 2018 GETS UNDERWAY

Game breaker:
Competition for places always sharpens the best players and the contest should be well and truly on in the Blues camp. Look to first five-eighths Stephen Perofeta to set the pace for the Blues in 2018 once he returns from a hand injury. Frustrated by injury in his first season last year, he made his Eden Park starting debut in the electric atmosphere of the British & Irish Lions game where he had an outstanding impact on the game. That sort of form demonstrated the potential he brings to the side and which was augmented by his play in the Ranfurly Shield-winning Taranaki side. Knowing that Bryn Gatland, who had his own outstanding moments last year, and Daniel Kirkpatrick are at his heels will keep the pressure on.



Key signing:
Having lock Patrick Tuipulotu back on track and looking hungry is a good sign for the Blues pack. A hard-running, ball-handling player, he is like a fourth loose forward, invaluable in a team that likes to move the ball in the traditional Blues manner. He showed signs during the end of season All Blacks tour that some of his best touches were at hand and knowing he has good support around him with the likes of Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, Scott Scrafton, Josh Goodhue and Joe Tupou will be a significant boost. All the signs point to a long awaited return of strength in this area of the Blues game.

Returning veteran:
If there was one player who repaid time spent on his development last year it was tighthead prop Ofa Tu'ungafasi. That was vital because the loss of a veteran like Charlie Faumuina could have caused issues for the Blues. But Tu'ungafasi demonstrated his worth on more than one occasion, most notably on the Test stage and that was welcome news for Blues fans. A consistently performing scrum and forward pack is a must if the Blues are to shake off some of the indifferent form that has plagued their most recent seasons. They look to have a solid core emerging and Tu'ungafasi will be a big driver of that.

The Scoop:

No team attracts all the clichés associated with expectations, at least in New Zealand, more than the Blues. They are well overdue to produce for their loyal fans and there are hopes that coach Tana Umaga has the sort of squad to advance the cause for him in 2018. Genuinely exciting young players mixed with increasingly experienced performers in key positions offer the hope that the sort of play to get people up on their feet becomes more consistent than occasional during this year's campaign.