Apia Park has come a long way from the basic ground where Michael Jones made his test debut - for Manu Samoa - back in 1986.

"It's a really modern, state of the art, stadium now. They've come a long way since '86. It was basic, but everything was basic back then. Now Samoa is a very sophisticated tourism destination," says the 51-year-old former loose forward, who racked up 55 All Blacks tests to go with his solitary Manu Samoa cap.

Jones was speaking exclusively to the Herald in the wake of today's announcement that the Blues are taking their June 2 Super Rugby fixture with the Queensland Reds to Apia Park, the first Super clash to be played in Samoa, and following the successful staging of the Crusaders-Chiefs match in Fiji's Suva last year. Those latter two franchises will meet again at the same venue on May 19.

Jones won two Super titles at the dawn of professional rugby with the Blues, but never again got to play a first-class game back in Samoa. But he feels the fit for this clash is perfect.

Advertisement

"I'm so pleased the Blues got in first. It would have been a travesty if one of the other franchises had got it. We've got the biggest Polynesian city in the world," he says.

This represents a prime opportunity for the Samoan Government and union to again prove - after the rugby success that was the All Blacks-Manu Samoa test in 2015 - that they have the wherewithal and infrastructure, even with a stadium whose capacity is less than 10,000, to host big rugby matches and perhaps even offer a Super base should the broadcasting deal ever allow for the introduction of a Pacific Island Super team. This should have happened years ago were money not such an imperative.

"It's hopefully the start of many of these games taking place in Samoa," Jones says.

He felt the tight turnaround between the June 2 game in Samoa and the historic Lions clash five days later would help rather than hinder the Blues.

"It's a great place to mould a team and reposition before they play the Lions. The experience will bring them together, especially the Samoan boys. There's a wonderful connection there."

Blues loose forward Jerome Kaino, just back in team training with the franchise, agrees that a good showing by the Samoan union and organisers on June 2 can only help their case for more future matches. Fiji, and its national stadium in Suva, seems to have had the monopoly on the idea that big games can come to the islands.

"It's always a possibility. The more top class games they can have there and prove they can host, I can't see why not. They are great hosts. If it's not a Samoan team, then a Pacific Island team," Kaino says.

The Blues have, astonishingly, reached the Super playoffs just twice in 13 seasons (in 2007 and 2011) since they last won the title in 2003. The 2013-15 Sir John Kirwan years were fallow, despite the knight's assertion when he departed.

Jones feels the team is on the right track under coach Tana Umaga to move up the ranks (just as long as they do not finish last again in the tight New Zealand conference).

"I am very excited about this team. It's a good mix of young and old. SBW and Jerome are great leaders. Then there's Akira Ioane. The culture is really building well. The character and fortitude is there. Culture is everything in a sports team," says Jones.