Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

Wynne Gray: New season, same old Blues

Opening loss delivers the doormat many want to wipe their feet on.

Ma'a Nonu and the Blues at training today. Nonu is doubtful for the two-game tour to South Africa. Photo / Dean Purcell
Ma'a Nonu and the Blues at training today. Nonu is doubtful for the two-game tour to South Africa. Photo / Dean Purcell

All Hail the Blues. Every sports competition needs a stack of components to make it more intriguing and they gallantly delivered when Super Rugby kicked off for the nation.

We need under-resourced teams who deliver grit and courage, others with an edge, some with an enviable work ethic, a few who are timebombs and at least one or two to poke the borax at.

Without any protest or thoughts of self-interest, the Blues volunteered to take the hit in the opening round in New Zealand. They were on a roll with six losses to finish the 2013 series and three trial game defeats this season so it was no drama to extend that losing streak.

The Blues had the pedigree and skill to complete the deal even against such an inferior side as the Highlanders.

No one would have guessed the Blues started preparing for Super Rugby in December and few would notice they have been honed to new levels of fitness.

The Blues never lost focus on their plan to play like a rabble and give the country the rugby doormat many want to wipe their feet on. The Monday mirth in many Auckland office blocks was a great tonic for output levels in the city.

It would have been too much for the powerbrokers who are concocting some heart-stopping concept for the series in 2016, to see last year's misfits the Highlanders go down the gurgler in round one. It was up to the Blues to take one for the sake of the series.

And they did it with aplomb. They treated the ball like nitroglycerine and tackling as an optional exercise, did not try too much until after halftime and then had a bit of a crack in the final quarter.

A clutch of them turned over ball regularly to make it look as though the Highlanders were expert in contact and the breakdowns, and when they had ball they offered little constructive work to get into the danger zones.

New Zealand made fun of the Lions when they toured here in 2005 with a bloated squad, an accompanying puffed-up public relations contingent, gold-plated travelling arrangements, enough coaches for Africa, a lame Power of Four anthem and stuff-all cohesion when they took the field.

After just one match this year, the Blues are heading into the same territory.

They have many All Blacks and a workaholic coaching staff which oozes international credentials but the effect was underwhelming in Dunedin. The only bullseye came from John Kirwan when he looked at the prospects for the first game.

"If we're not ready we'll get pumped," he said.

The Blues were smacked badly. So using Kirwan's theory, they can't have been ready, weren't prepared, were not in the right frame of mind, lacked focus and lost their way.

It's early in the series, but those days will darken unless the staff and players get some detail sorted for Friday's visit from the Crusaders.

- 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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