Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

Wynne Gray: Cracking start reason to grin just a little


The manner of the Blues' victories to open this year's Super 15 campaign makes the mind wander back a decade.

Successive triumphs do not even qualify for the playoffs.

But for those who live in the Blues region or who follow the side's fortunes, success has been a rare commodity since 2003.

Helen Clark was still PM back then, Saddam Hussein was captured and The Lord of the Rings had its premiere.

The Blues rediscovered their pomp that season, taking their third title. They began with five wins before falling to their solitary defeat, away to the Highlanders, then taking out the crown in late May.

No one is getting carried away by suggesting similar jewels await this year, but it is a start the Blues have suggested just once since that title season.

In 2008, they saw off the Chiefs, Lions and Cheetahs before they encountered defeat and more patchy results.

Wins against quality foes like the Hurricanes and Crusaders this season have prompted ideas of a revival. Not necessarily thoughts of a title, but a change of fortune and a resurgence in the quality of play.

Television spectators and those who went to Eden Park last week have seen plenty to admire about the Blues' beginning.

Their coaches will be harder judges as they balance the response of a strong start from their young squad with the evolving demands of a marathon series.

But the talent, hard work and enterprise have stirred the masses. They can see a purpose about the Blues, they are playing to patterns which suit their skills and venom.

For too long the Blues have looked disjointed and produced performances to match, now there is a unity and resilience which have not been recent benchmarks for the franchise.

There will be many theories behind the change. Put it down to a combination of senior wise coaching counsel and the enthusiasm of youth.

Half the squad are new to this level of rugby or the Blues environment so they are ready to ingest the teachings of John Kirwan, Mick Byrne, Grant Doorey and Graham Henry.

Initial demands were about fitness and new man Wally Rifle has delivered the group in top shape to the coaching staff.

Their mantra has been simple and based around the slogan that Better Never Stops.

That catchphrase is plastered around walls at the side's Mt Albert training headquarters along with other messages which reinforce the coaches' utterances.

So far the pupils seem to be understanding.

- NZ Herald

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Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

The latest commentary and analysis from senior rugby writer Wynne Gray. Wynne has been covering the All Blacks for more than 27 years and has attended more than 230 All Blacks tests live for the Herald.

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