As an opening game designed to sell the competition and tickle the imagination of fans around the world, the Blues playing the Rebels in Melbourne on a Thursday night is a shocker to start Super Rugby.

But as a means to gain an immediate insight into the Blues and provide the perfect way to determine whether this year is going to be the one that they come good, it is perfect.

In this age of fancy-pants analysis the point is often missed, buried under a heap of jargon when really a bit of straight talking would get to the heart of what has been wrong at the Blues for a few years. They have been consistently poor away from home and against the weaker teams, the Blues have been dragged down to their opponents' level.

The Rebels are one of the weaker teams in the competition. There's little need to spare their feelings on that - in six seasons their best finish is 10th and they have been last twice. And the Blues are playing them away from home - so opening night is a chance to tick two boxes, to start a campaign with an authoritative performance that alludes to the squad finally being instilled with greater mental resilience and better attitude.


There's no doubt the Blues have the players to be taken seriously. That has not been the case in the past three years, but it is now. They have recruited better than any other New Zealand franchise.

Pauliasi Manu has come in and added bite to their scrum judging by the way the Blues crushed the Chiefs at the set-piece in their last pre-season hit out. Jimmy Tupou, the versatile Crusaders forward, could come of age with game time and Michael Collins, who has arrived from Wales via Otago, may turn out to be a smart piece of business if he continues to provide direction and accuracy at fullback.

And of course, the Blues also landed Sonny Bill Williams and halfback Augustine Pulu to give them a little glamour and confidence that they are a franchise for whom the best players want to play. The new boys join an established core that includes Charlie Faumuina, Patrick Tuipulotu, Jerome Kaino, Steven Luatua, George Moala, Rene Ranger and Rieko Ioane and the Blues, on the basis of their personnel, suddenly have a formidable feel.

They have been here before, though - between 2004 and 2012 they were a squad full of match winners but no idea how to bring all the component pieces together. But Tana Umaga made good progress with a young and inexperienced squad last year and has strengthened his coaching team by bringing in Steve Jackson as an assistant.

Having had a year to get under the bonnet, it feels like they have fixed the clunkiest parts of the engine. How much so will become evident tomorrow night. It's a game the Blues know they have to win, for the simple reason, that good teams just don't lose to the Rebels.

Super Rugby's opening game will be well short of glamour, but won't lack significance.