Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

Rugby: Next four matches will show Blues' worth

The next phase of the Blues' campaign will be a strong barometer about their Super 15 prospects.

They have made a sound start but have to push ahead in their next four matches to show they are genuine finals contenders.

Any lapses will be damaging because the Chiefs and Crusaders are likely to squeeze them as the series heads towards its halfway point.

So the Blues must resume after their bye with a powerful performance when they venture abroad for the first time this season for Sunday's match against the Waratahs in Sydney.

The Blues slipped in their last duel with the Bulls and have a critical stretch of games against the Waratahs, Chiefs, Highlanders and Hurricanes before their second bye.

Appraisals of the Waratahs have been unflattering as they have lurched to three defeats in four starts.

The Blues just accounted for them in a pre-tournament match in Whangarei and need to repeat that with interest before returning to the torrid contests in their New Zealand pool.

Waratahs coach Michael Cheika has been struggling to get his test-laden side to play to the style he wants and they have only one victory against the Rebels.

Former Wallaby coach Bob Dwyer warned that players had to adhere to the plans or be chopped.

Midfield organiser Berrick Barnes returned last game but lasted only the first quarter before he injured his thumb. Initial reports indicated he would be out for some time but those have been revised to suggest he might even play this Sunday.

The Blues have a number of selection decisions to consider after coach John Kirwan and his selectors picked a rearranged group to host the Bulls and lost 28-21. Now they have to think again.

Medical reports on players such as Peter Saili, Chris Noakes and George Moala will help to determine their appearance while the impressive Steven Luatua should be restored to his more familiar role as blindside flanker.

The Blues and Waratahs did not meet last year and finished well down the table with four wins each.

- NZ Herald

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