Super Rugby season review: The Blues

2:34 pm on 20 June 2019

Analysis - The proclamations didn't do the Blues any favours.

Blues captain Patrick Tuipulotu.

Blues captain Patrick Tuipulotu. Photo: Photosport

Whether the folks who loudly declared the Blues were "back'' in 2019, thought they were doing the franchise a favour, the reality is the praise was unjustified.

The team enjoyed a four-game period where they looked a reasonably competent side, only for ill-discipline and skill errors to swiftly send them back to also-ran status.

Fans can be forgiven for their fealty to a team, but that support shouldn't extend to those who write and talk about rugby for a living.

In the end a record of five wins, a draw and 10 losses speaks volumes for a season that saw the Blues again fail to qualify for the playoffs.

Best performance

The week six win over the Highlanders.

After a miserable start to the season, a win over the Sunwolves got some Blues fans excited, but it was what happened a week later that suggested better days lay ahead.

The Highlanders are the kind of brave, relentless team the Blues have so rarely been and here, on this March night, it was the latter who deservedly prevailed 33-26.

Worst performance

The week 10 loss to the Highlanders, with dishonourable mentions for the week two defeat to the Sharks and week 18 against the Hurricanes.

What was so good about week six, went bad in Dunedin a month later.

The Blues should have won this game. With Karl Tu'inukuafe and Ofa Tuungafasi to the fore, their pack was dominating the set pieces and the match.

But, typical of where this team is at, when they absolutely had to produce a scrum of substance, they couldn't. A penalty try was conceded, as the Highlanders' pack enjoyed a rare moment of ascendancy, which effectively settled the 24-12 result.

Player of the year

Has got to be captain Patrick Tuipulotu.

In a team that often played in fits and starts, the consistency of his work rate and intensity really stood out. Not a public speaker by inclination, the lock also led with words, talking honestly and with authority about where the team was going wrong or could improve.

Prop Tu'inukuafe played well, during the brief window he was fit, while flanker Dalton Papalii and fullback Melani Nanai were others whose performances were regularly impressive.

Most improved player

Definitely Nanai.

Made the fullback spot his own and provided the bulk of the team's attack. Others generated more headlines and discussion, but none came close to producing what Nanai did.

It's just a shame he's off to play in England for Worcester.

The Nonu Experiment

All the fawning over Nonu when he arrived, and suggestions he'd swiftly re-ascend to All Black status, left a bit of a sour taste.

You became sceptical of the man and eager to see signs that his recruitment had been a bad idea.

In the end, you'd say it was an individual success. Nonu played pretty well, particularly for someone who turned 37 during the season. Mind you, he didn't have much choice, given how infrequently Sonny Bill Williams was fit.

Ma'a Nonu heads for the try line against the NSW Waratahs.

Ma'a Nonu in action for the Blues in 2019. Photo: Photosport


It looked a little bit like every man for himself at times, with Nonu among them.

You think back to games such as the Highlanders in week 10, Brumbies the following round, Reds in Brisbane, Bulls at Eden Park or either of the Hurricanes' games and wonder what might have been.

How many those narrow defeats could have been avoided had some of the co-called leaders actually shown the way and taken ownership for the result.

Casting forward

Nanai and promising lock Scott Scrafton are off, while it doesn't appear as if Nonu and Williams will be around either.

Lots of focus has gone onto first five-eighth and the need for a proven performer there, such as Beauden Barrett.

That won't hurt, but the team have to get more out of some established stars. Tu'inukuafe needs to get fit and stay fit. Tuungafasi is still too up and down.

Departing fullback Melani Nanai was a standout for the Blues in 2019.

Departing fullback Melani Nanai was a standout for the Blues in 2019. Photo: Photosport

Loose forwards Blake Gibson, Tom Robinson and Papalii look very useful and you wonder how long the reliance on - and indulgence of - No.8 Akira Ioane ought to continue.

In the backs, maybe it's time Rieko Ioane came back to midfield. Exposed defensively at second five-eighth last year, Ioane was sent back to the wing this season where his impact on games was minimal. The Blues need much more out of him as a player and leader.

Mark out of 10 for 2019

You'd have to say four.

Making the playoffs represents a pass mark and the Blues didn't achieve that this year. People said some very flattering things about the team and some individuals shone, but there was an overall lack of cohesion and conviction about things.

The Blues played some good rugby, but lacked an awareness of how to turn that into wins.

*Hamish Bidwell is a contributor to RNZ. He has previously worked at The Northern Advocate, Gisborne Herald, Hawke's Bay Today, The Press, The Dominion Post and Stuff.

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