20 Jun 2021

Super Rugby final: Blues win will reverberate through next season and beyond

10:28 am on 20 June 2021

Analysis - For the first time in 18 years, Aucklanders can call themselves Super Rugby champions.

Otere Black celebrates with the trophy.
Blues v Highlanders, Sky Super Rugby Trans-Tasman Final. Eden Park, Auckland.

This is Otere Black's last time in a Blues jersey as he heads offshore after this season. Photo: Photosport

Yes, the Blues' tense 23-15 win over the Highlanders last night will have an asterisk next to it given the nature of Super Rugby Trans Tasman - but the win will have reverberations through to next season and beyond.

There were 36,000 in Eden Park last night.

There is every chance the Blues can pull that sort of crowd on a regular basis in 2022, helped in part by their new status as champions and a whole lot more by their aggressive recruitment strategy.

They have the biggest market, the biggest stadium and now the biggest storyline in Roger Tuivasa-Sheck (as well as the return of Beauden Barrett).

The future is looking so bright the team brought in CEO Andrew Hore to address the media post match, in a forum usually reserved for players and coaches:

"We've got an obligation to the wider Blues community. We aren't the finished article though, we're not there yet. We've got a lot to go," he said, before MacDonald stressed that he didn't even know where he was going to play Tuivasa-Sheck when he is presumably retained as Blues coach.

Patrick Tuipulotu's calm and low tones did a good job of disguising his excitement at winning, but not a good enough one.

With a Ula Lole (traditional Pasifika necklace made of candy) around his neck, the workhorse of the Blues' pack was quick to remind the media that for all his All Black and Super Rugby experience, that was his first final.

So finding the right words to motivate his troops to commit to the defence heavy occasion was something he was making up as he was going along. No matter, whatever it was - it worked.

The Super Rugby Trans Tasman trophy sat proudly in front of him, ready to be filled up with champagne as soon as Tuipulotu left the press conference.

The Blues celebrate victory.
Blues v Highlanders, Sky Super Rugby Trans-Tasman Final. Eden Park, Auckland. New Zealand. Saturday 19 June 2021.

The future is looking bright for the Blues. Photo: Photosport Ltd 2021

Meanwhile, there was an air of resignation on the faces of Ash Dixon and Clarke Dermody.

The Highlanders' captain and coach were both quick to bring up their team's underdog status, how they only fielded one All Black compared to the Blues' 10 and even bemoaning the state of their own facilities when Dixon claimed that they only had one working "sh*tter" after someone had blocked up the other one midweek. He denied responsibility for the blockage.

It's not the first time the Highlanders have tried to claim the moral high ground when it comes to resources and playing rosters and, in fairness, there is a lot of truth to it.

However, compared to the Blues' often futile (until last night) attempts to change their image of underperformers, the longer the Highlanders cling to the tag of 'battlers', the longer that's exactly what they'll be.

Dixon tellingly made no mention of the fact that they possess the best stadium in the country and the ability to retain the likes of Folau Fakatava in their squad, a player any other team would be more than happy to have starting for them.

Dixon himself was the centre of controversy earlier, and was extremely lucky not to have spent the majority of his 100th Super Rugby game watching like everyone else after a heavy, late and high shot on Otere Black.

The yellow card he received should have been a red in the eyes of most people watching, many of whom on social media were baffled at the lack of consistency in the rulings of head contact over the past couple of years.

Black got the last laugh, though. He joined his team on the stage at Eden Park and hoisted the trophy aloft. It will prove to be his last act in a Blues jersey as he's heading offshore after this season, so he'll watch on as his side enters their brave new world in 2022.

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