With the legendary Tana Umaga at the helm, there are exciting times ahead at the Blues, but yet, a place in the playoffs may still be out of the question.
It is a big assumption to make before the seasons kicks off, but perhaps the loss of Jerome Kaino for round one against the Highlanders is an early sign of the disappointments that are to come. Disappointment hasn’t been new to Blues fans, but the arrival of All Black legend Tana Umaga as head coach has provided cause for a lot of interest in recent weeks.
Will Tana Umaga’s Blues Struggle In 2016?
But do you remember the excitement and change that people had and expected when former coach, and fellow All Black legend, Sir John Kirwan arrived at the Blues?
Tana Umaga is in a similar position here. However, with the big signings of NRL star Matt Duffy and the securing of talented loose forward Tanerau Latimer, Umaga can take comfort in the knowledge that at least some of his new recruits have proven that they can be relied on. Duffy has already impressed during pre season playing at fullback and the convert will help form one of the best Blues backlines in recent seasons. George Moala is already a proven game-changer, with the added power and speed of Rene Ranger plus the youth of first-five Ihaia West, the Blues have no reason to doubt their playmakers against even the best of the Super Rugby sides.
The problem is the continuity of good results and the ability to be in a serious position to make a challenge for the playoffs. The draw in 2016 doesn’t help matters, whether Umaga and the Blues want to admit it or not. After hosting defending champions the Highlanders in round one, the Blues then play the Crusaders away before returning to Eden Park to play the Hurricanes, a side that looked untouchable in the final trial match of pre season. The draw to begin Super Rugby is no easy task, and many would predict the Blues to lose all three, and that would be the worst start for Umaga and his tenure at the club.
In the forwards, Steven Luatua doesn’t want to watch another Super Rugby season go by without putting forward a serious challenge to make a loose forward or lock position in the All Blacks his own. 20-year old Akira Ioane appears to have locked in the no8 jersey, and once his one-week ban has been served, Jerome Kaino will resume his captaincy role. Kaino alone is a centurion for the Blues, has scored eight tries in Super Rugby, plus a further 11 tries for the All Blacks while being a vital cog in the 2011 & 2015 RWC winning national side.
Player wise, the Blues are in good position. In 2016, the younger generation of Blues fans probably wouldn’t realise that their side was the very first to win Super Rugby way back in the year 1996. In fact, some may not even remember the last time title victory back in 2003, because since then, particularly in the last few seasons, it has indeed been a sad state of affairs for Auckland’s only Super Rugby club.
For the Blues in 2016, the ingredients are there to make a challenge for the Super Rugby title, but not even Tana Umaga can turn around a club that has been in such bad shape this quickly.