Patrick McKendry

Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

Rugby: Tuipulotu's time at top will aid Blues' forward push

Aucklanders have the talent and potential to escape their away-from-home hoodoo

Patrick Tuipulotu knows he has to fulfil high expectations. Photo / Getty Images
Patrick Tuipulotu knows he has to fulfil high expectations. Photo / Getty Images

The Blues' losing streak away from their Eden Park fortress now stands at 14 - defeat to the Sharks at North Harbour Stadium included - so only their most ardent supporters will be confident of success against the Force in Perth tomorrow night.

They have plenty of ready-made excuses - the six-hour-plus flight to Western Australia, the inhospitable time difference that means the match will start just before midnight New Zealand time, the fatigue of prop Tony Woodcock after his exploits with the All Blacks against England, and recent illness of front-row colleague Charlie Faumuina.

But while the seventh-placed Force are having an unprecedented season in terms of success, they, like the rest of the Australian teams in the Super Rugby competition are vulnerable up front.

There is a feeling in New Zealand and South Africa that if the Aussies are beaten up front, they are beaten.

That wasn't the case for the Blues in their loss to the Brumbies in a wet Canberra in April, but with players such as Woodcock, Patrick Tuipulotu and Jerome Kaino in their pack, the Blues should be confident of gaining the necessary edge in the collisions in Perth.

Of these three, Tuipulotu could be the most important.

The young lock's taste of test rugby against the English - he played four minutes in each of the tests in Dunedin and Hamilton after remaining on the reserves bench in Auckland - has left him hungry for more.

And the 21-year-old knows expectations have risen accordingly.

"I have to play at another level up now," he said. "In Super Rugby especially, more people will be watching me now so I have to perform. It's going to push me. I'm here now, it's mine to lose, so I've just got to perform."

The Blues could certainly do with a ruthless attitude, and with his size and skill, Tuipulotu has the ability and physical attributes to deliver it.

Their 37-24 victory over the Hurricanes at Eden Park before the international break was one of their best of the season and again highlighted the talent and potential in their ranks.

Transferring that to fields away from home is a puzzle they haven't been able to get to grips with, and at 10th on the leaderboard with only three matches to go, it seems too late for a charge to the playoffs.

Those matches - against the Force, the Crusaders in Christchurch and the Chiefs back at Eden Park - give the Blues a tough end to the competition, but it will be important for Kirwan to see a continuation of the form and desire his team showed against the Hurricanes.

After rubbing shoulders with All Blacks Sam Whitelock and Brodie Retallick, Tuipulotu knows the level he has to reach is a high one.

"You watch these guys play and it's unreal to see how good they are in person, to see how professional they are, especially Sam Whitelock.

"Being the main caller in the lineout, I try to take a few things off him in that area. Brodie Retallick in the breakdown area, he's just ruthless."

- NZ Herald

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