Wynne Gray

Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

Rugby: Plucky Blues defy the doubters and discover self-belief

The Blues will have to contain the Rebels' Kurtley Beale. Photo / Getty Images
The Blues will have to contain the Rebels' Kurtley Beale. Photo / Getty Images

Already the Blues have risen above last year's woes.

When that torment stopped, the Blues had accumulated just four victories. Their latest plucky 18-17 win against the Stormers has now given them a quintet of triumphs in this tournament.

Their progress has defied most pre-competition predictions. They have welded some solidity to their panache and are chasing the Chiefs in the New Zealand section.

That pursuit continues against the Rebels at Eden Park on Saturday before the Blues head into a really tough stretch to finish their pool play.

They have to meet the Crusaders, Highlanders and Chiefs in their return duels as well as travel to South Africa for a couple of matches.

But they have gathered more belief in the last month after wins against the Highlanders, Hurricanes, Stormers and a solitary point loss to the Reds and remain largely unaffected by injury.

Hooker is the one concern, with former skipper Keven Mealamu replaced with a calf problem in his comeback start and ruled out this weekend.

"We are just mindful of Keven's history with these sort of problems and there was no point in keeping him on the field once he felt a twinge," coach John Kirwan said.

Deputy hooker James Parsons is struggling with a neck injury and unlikely to recover for a few weeks.

The third hooker in the squad, Quentin MacDonald, was strong when he came on against the Stormers and he will start this week with wider training group member Gafatasi Su'a moving in to cover the hooking duties from the bench.

Form blindsider Steven Luatua will not train until later this week because of a twisted ankle but is expected to play at the weekend.

"He is working hard at his trade, doing well on the field and with his analysis on the computer, and he is getting the rewards," Kirwan said.

The Blues would appreciate the longer break before their next clash, with the staff working out how best to juggle some of the young squad's resources.

"The Rebels look a dangerous team. They attack a lot and you feel they should win more than they do," Kirwan said.

"They have x-factor players like James O'Connor and Kurtley Beale, who showed what they could do against the Chiefs. We will have to continue to work hard right across the group to contain them when they come here."

Preparation would again be the key for the Blues, working out how they wanted to play, thinking what the Rebels would bring and which was the best Blues combination.

One idea may be to return Rene Ranger to centre where he started the Blues' initial six matches. He has played competently on the wing to cover some gaps against the Hurricanes and Stormers.

However, Ranger makes more impact on both attack and defence at centre and looks more tuned into that role.

The coaching staff will already be thinking about ideas for the return clash in a fortnight with the Crusaders, and Ranger looms as the man for another duel with the burly Robbie Fruean.

A few other players, such as former All Black lock Anthony Boric, who has had a light workload, may be used this weekend.

- NZ Herald

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