Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Rugby: Blues have genuine reasons for optimism

George Moala makes a break for the Blues. Photo / Getty
George Moala makes a break for the Blues. Photo / Getty

There are many reasons to be confident this will be the year the Blues come good but, a week out from the season starting, there always are.

It's definitely not a new thing for optimism to be high before a game has actually been played. The big picture never really changes - the Blues are viewed as a potential contender until they play so badly as to make everyone think otherwise.

Long-suffering followers have mostly switched off from the pre-season chatter. They have learned the hard way not to buy into the new beginning story, having seen any number of painful false dawns. Why bother investing any emotion when the campaign is most likely going to be in tatters eight weeks in?

Repeat failures mean the Blues no longer deserve to be believed in by right. They have to earn it. They have to deliver performances and results that lure fans back and give them something tangible to pin their hopes to. They can't train well, talk well and then expect everyone to buy their conviction that this time it will be different.

They know that.

But still, against all better judgement, it's tempting to be quietly intrigued by how they will go this year. Their pre-season performances - by no means a conclusive or entirely accurate mechanism by which to judge a team's readiness for the real thing - have been good.

Good in the sense they have given the impression the players know what's expected of them and how to deliver; good in that the gameplans have been simple but effective. The big men have been asked to run straight and hard and be physical, the decision-makers have been encouraged to use their instincts but not to push too hard - to stay within the structure if there is any weight of doubt.

Jerome Kaino has looked fit and clearly aggressive - overly so against the Chiefs when he was red-carded - Steven Luatua is back in top condition with a point to prove and Akira Ioane could do just about anything. George Moala and Rene Ranger are going to lack subtlety and trickery but will compensate with incredible raw power and defensive brutality.

Then there is the hulking form of Patrick Tuipulotu, who could beat a few packs up on his own but won't need to do it on his own because Charlie Faumuina will help him.

None of this provides a reason to get carried away, but it at least raises spirits that the Blues have the basis of something solid. The key, as usual, will be how well Tana Umaga and his coaching team can bring the players together and persuade them to be patient, focused and disciplined not just from week-to-week, but for the duration of each game they play.

The evidence so far has been encouraging - not so much the results, but in the way Umaga has been clear, concise and consistent in his communication. That puts him way ahead of his predecessors: the riddling Pat Lam and changeable John Kirwan.

It's too much of a risk for anyone to throw all of their heart at the Blues at this point. It can all change in a flash with this crew but, for once, genuine reasons to believe outweigh those to not.

- NZ Herald

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