Most social golfers know about the Mulligan rule - where once in the round, a duffed drive can be retaken without penalty. The Blues need to declare their effort against the Lions last week to be their Mulligan of 2016.

They can't go back and replay the game, but they can turn up in Perth tonight and play the way they should have in Johannesburg. Their job tonight is to not just win, but to do so with an improved attitude, energy and cohesion that makes it easier to believe that what happened against the Lions was a blip: one of those inexplicable performances that don't make sense in the context of the overall campaign.

There is reason to be hopeful that Johannesburg was just a blip. The Blues had been edging forward in most aspects of their work until that point. There was a growing confidence that they were learning; tightening their defence and accuracy. There was some hope that they were, after five successive years of bumbling, on the road to recovery. They had stopped with the recidivist offending. They were showing a capacity to dig in, adapt and claw their way out of trouble and at times, they were able to play with the attacking elan of old.

That will become questionable if they follow up one disastrous performance with another.


It's not overstating things to say their season hangs in the balance and a huge amount of significance is attached to their game against the Force.

If they are to keep their faint and fading playoff hopes alive they have to win. To come home after games against the Kings, Lions and Force with just one win won't be an acceptable return.

The Force are beatable, one of the poorer sides in the competition and the Blues need to be able to regularly win games of this nature.

If the Blues really are on the road to recovery then they will already have worked out what went wrong at Ellis Park and have devised a game plan how to fix it.

And much of the responsibility to improve lies with the senior players.

Jerome Kaino is probably the one under most pressure to remind everyone that he's a world class talent. He's been hampered by injury but if he's fit enough to start, then allowances can't be made.

Patrick Tuipulotu is another who will breathe a little easier if he can romp all over the Force - get his hands on the ball and thunder up the middle. The All Blacks selectors haven't lost faith in him but would like him to give definitive reasons why he should be named in the 32-man squad to play Wales.

And while Steven Luatua has chugged along nicely this year, he's competing for an All Blacks place with men who have serious form.