At some point in the last decade expectation and reality headed along different paths at the Blues.

It's just that no one actually realised, maybe until now.

And this perhaps is the real issue the club has in its relationships with its stakeholders: everyone believes the team are capable of significantly more than they are.

History is partly to blame.


A generation of Aucklanders grew up knowing only success.

The Ranfurly Shield used to live in Auckland throughout the 1980s and 1990s and occasionally holiday elsewhere.

When Super Rugby came about, Auckland morphed into the Blues and success continued.

The first two titles were bagged, a third probably should have come in 1998 and after a longish hiccup, normal order resumed in 2003 when the Blues claimed their third.

Titles came so easily and with them, perhaps a sense of entitlement — not so much from the players, but from the paying public who had become accustomed to the good life.

It's been another frustrating season for Blues fans - young and old. Photo / Photosport
It's been another frustrating season for Blues fans - young and old. Photo / Photosport

Winning was a way of life, just what happened when Auckland or the Blues played.

No one had any real reason to believe otherwise, especially as Auckland has more players and more resources than the rest of the country.

But sport, or at least professional sport, constantly rewrites history and is forever proving money plus people is rarely a formula for success.

Clubs which have enjoyed sporting dynasties have usually had a host of significant factors all combine at the same time: a great coach meets great players and the chemistry all works well.

There is nothing inherent within the club itself which fosters success as Manchester United have found out since Alex Ferguson left as manager.

As the Chicago Bulls have discovered since Michael Jordan retired and the Brisbane Broncos realised once they lost Wayne Bennett as coach.

Nor is population or geography any kind of relevant factor in a mobile, hyper-connected world.

Size means nothing, proven by the fact Los Angeles, the USA's second largest city by population, has only once had a team win the Super Bowl.

New York's achievements in the NFL haven't been much better and the best way for Aucklanders to make themselves feel instantly happier about life is to accept the foundations on which they have built their lofty expectations for the Blues are wrong.

The reality is the Blues have the least experienced, youngest and, without being unduly unkind, the least talented squad of the five New Zealand teams.

Strip out Akira and Rieko Ioane, Patrick Tuipulotu and Sonny Bill Williams and there isn't really much left to excite.

Ofa Tu'ungafasi is a regular All Black but needs leadership and quality around him to get the best out of himself.

Kara Pryor, Jimmy Tupou, James Parsons, Bryn Gatland, Michael Collins, Augustine Pulu and Pauliasi Manu are all good, hard-working players, but not quite in that top echelon and Stephen Perofeta may well mature and develop into an All Blacks' regular, but his journey there is going to involve a number of long and chastening nights.

Measured against the golden era Blues, two wins from the first eight games is a disaster.

All Blacks midfielder Sonny Bill Williams is sidelined with a wrist injury. Photo / Photosport
All Blacks midfielder Sonny Bill Williams is sidelined with a wrist injury. Photo / Photosport

If everyone can find it within themselves to be honest, however, two wins from eight games is about right for this squad although the performances against the Stormers and Sharks weren't acceptable.

No doubt former coaches Pat Lam and John Kirwan wish that the penny had dropped in their respective tenures, but Tana Umaga can at least be saved from the same fate of being unfairly judged for not producing victories with a team largely underequipped to deliver them.

It is beyond any reasonable doubt now that firing Umaga at the end of the season would do nothing to improve things.

There isn't a miracle cure for the Blues and it may take years yet before they finally build the collective skills, experience, maturity and tactical certainty to win regularly.

The Highlanders could have axed Jamie Joseph in 2013 after he had presided over a three-year period which saw them finish eighth, ninth, and 14th. But they had invested plenty in him and felt that maybe he'd got all of his mistakes out of the way. They were right as two years later the Highlanders were champions.

No one should believe that retaining Umaga beyond this year will automatically turn things around but it should at least heighten the possibility of that happening.

As the wheels have fallen off this season he has remained unflappable.

Tana Umaga has been consistent in his message to the public. Photo / Photosport
Tana Umaga has been consistent in his message to the public. Photo / Photosport

He has said the same things each time about the need to be patient, accepting and consistent with the messaging and it suggests that he may have already convinced the Blues board to play the long game and back him for at least another two years.

It is possible that far from being detached from the reality of the Blues season, Umaga is the only one who has it in perspective because he came into it with an appropriate level of expectation.

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