Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Rugby: True Blues to be discovered on away trips

The Blues after their loss to the Hurricanes. Photo / Getty
The Blues after their loss to the Hurricanes. Photo / Getty

A solitary win from three games is not a return that builds optimism but, if there is solace to be found in the Blues' season to date, it is that half their local derbies are now out of the way.

Unquestionably they have ample parts of their game to fix. They need to significantly improve their basic skills and find a way of retaining their composure the longer they hold the ball.

But as much as they have to improve, they shouldn't necessarily feel despair. Nor should they be judged to be out of the running.

What looks to be more than probable is that the New Zealand conference is a different beast to the others. Intra-conference games are going to dance to a different beat as has been apparent so far.

The Highlanders and Blues went to the wire after an 80-minute, epic contest; the Highlanders and Hurricanes were separated by only one point and the Blues and Hurricanes ended up going at it for the better part of 85 minutes.

What may transpire is that the Blues discover they have played three of the better teams they will meet this season. The Highlanders are the defending champions and look equipped to mount a solid defence.

The Hurricanes, while not the same team they were last year when they ran away with the round-robin, are crunching into gear and will no doubt get their counter-attacking game going soon and the Crusaders look like they have, by some distance, the best set-piece pack in the competition.

When the business end comes, it's likely, probable even, that the Highlanders, Hurricanes and Crusaders will all be in the running. They will all have, to a greater or lesser extent, a lifeline to the playoffs.

The Chiefs will be in that mix, too, what we might find over the next 10 weeks is that the Blues are a reasonable side and not so far off the pace after all.

As compelling as the last three weeks have been, it will perhaps only be this week when they travel to play the Reds in Brisbane that it will become possible to get an accurate gauge on the Blues.

How they cope away from home against a weaker side will reveal plenty. If they are going to enjoy a better campaign, then they have to be able to win away from home against sides like the Reds.

"If we can keep pressure on teams, rewards will come," said Blues coach Tana Umaga. "But we can't keep letting them off in certain situations.

"They have had some changes over there at the Reds and we know how that works. It is going to be their first game at home under a new regime and we know that, when those things happen, the squad will galvanise itself and we have to be ready for that. I am sure we will go over there in the best possible shape."

- NZ Herald

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