We are the hopeful. We came in the sunshine, maybe 20,000 of us, milling, queueing, grabbing our $14 "fish baskets" and roaring our delight as they read out Ma'a Nonu's name. Roaring again for Akira Ioane, leading the team onto the field in his 50th game.

We are the hopeful. We've got the Blues. This will be the year. I saw people thrilled to be back. I saw people curled into their seats, despair clenched tight in their wretched guts. Mostly, though, we were pretty chill. We've got the Blues. Be good it if happened. Not gonna let it ruin the barbie if it doesn't.

Besides, Blues v Crusaders. Come on, what sadist thought that was a fair draw to get the Super Rugby competition started? Chumps v champs. Actually double champs. They've won nine times in the last 21 years, including the last two, and been finalists another four.

And yep, the Blues have been the worst New Zealand team since before Jordan Luck first sang "Why Does Love Do This To Me". More or less.

Advertisement

Luck wrote that song for the Blues. Well, he might as well have.

But hey we don't care. The core of these two teams met in the final of last year's provincial championship, the Mitre 10 Cup, and Auckland beat Canterbury 40-33 in extra time. Gave them a right thumping, eventually.

Also, the pre-season this year: the Blues destroyed the Chiefs in Kaikohe and the Hurricanes in Mangatainoka. So, you bet we are the hopeful. You sing it to the tune of "We are the Champions".

The teams are on the field. Matt Todd, the Crusaders captain, does a sharp knee jump and then prowls like an alpha chimp, all hunched shoulders and menacing glares. He's so short.

One puffed-up online authority reckons the Crusaders have got this by 17 points. On the Radio Sport commentary they say, "The Blues would be comfortable they're able to make their passes." Set a high bar why don't you.

The Crusaders, they say a little later, "look like they're running downhill" because they're going faster.

Actually, look at Akira Ioane. Quickly imposing, the one the others follow, grabbing the ball and always going forward, which is something you can say about surprisingly few rugby players. Even though, with that beard taking over his face, the drooping eyelids, he looks like he's about to go to sleep on his feet.

Akira Ioane is always going forward, which is something you can say about surprisingly few rugby players. Photo / Photosport
Akira Ioane is always going forward, which is something you can say about surprisingly few rugby players. Photo / Photosport

And what about Ma'a Nonu? He passes harder and faster than everyone else on the park. He runs straight and he has more time to do everything. This is because he stands deeper in the backline than the others. He also runs in to help with rucks more than the other backs.

Advertisement

Very busy, very efficient. He plays the whole game, which no one expected because he's 36, which is supposed to be way too old, and he doesn't once try to win it on his own. There for the team.

The Blues get a penalty then fullback Michael Collins has probably the worst moment of his rugby life and drops the ball, so the Crusaders get an easy try. After a while they're up 12-3 and by now it's obvious the Blues can do nothing to get past the defence. The Crusaders have about 35 people on the field, it's a three-deep wall of red stretched across the try line.

At least the game is being played at the Crusaders end. The fans stay calm, which is pretty impressive really.

Half time. Happy Chinese New Year! say the big screens. A troupe of lion dancers come out and do their thing. Up in the north-east corner of the stands the kids don't care, they're playing bullrush.

When you've got the Blues you've also got Blues jokes.

The Blues are like the sunshine: gone from the stadium and it's only half time. The Blues are like Eden Park: the stadium we got because we didn't care enough to get a better one.

The Blues are like an Eden Park carton of chips. Always cooked exactly to the point of not quite good enough.

They're back. Is this when the Crusaders pile on 10 tries? No! The Blues are running stronger, great support, inspired passing and there's Akira Ioane sprinting a hard, smart line to finish straight under the posts. He plonks the ball down and rears up, arms stretched wide, the hero on show to his fans like he's just scored for Liverpool and the roar is immense. There's glory in it.

I'm right in front of him. The eyes are not half-closed now. He's chest-out head-cocked staring fit to burst. Thank you and yes please, we definitely need more of that.

Sonny Bill Williams comes on at 49 minutes and proceeds to have a very quiet game. Harry Plummer, the upstart new first five eighth, comes on with him and has just the opposite. He feeds and pushes and plays some exciting rugby, until the moment when, tearing upfield with the ball, looking left and right for options, he jinks a little and falls over because what, did he forget to put sprigs in his boots?

I don't understand that, how you can slip over on a dry, well-maintained field. But you can. The Crusaders push the score up to 24-17 and the Blues heroically close the gap to 24-22, and then Plummer has two kicks at goal. Misses the first, though not according to the crowd.

Blues coach Leon MacDonald confident ahead of season opener against the formidable Crusaders.

The second is a penalty from near halfway and the ball drifts in a long low gentle arc, while we wait, growing faint from holding our breath, and somehow it just manages to miss.

24-22. I don't blame Plummer. Teams win when they take their best options. Teams don't win when the player inside Rieko Ioane runs on an angle, using up all the space, and then doesn't bother to pass, or passes only when there's nowhere for Ioane to go.

The coaches must tear their hair out. Rieko is Akira's super-speedy younger brother and he's a world-beating try machine. Rieko Ioane must tear his hair out, although in his case there's a don't-touch-the-hair thing going on.

What he should do is stand next to Ma'a Nonu and not let any other bugger on the team get between them. Nonu knows how to put a runner into space. Far too many other buggers got between them on Saturday.

On the sound system they play "Why Does Love Do This To Me". Of course they do. In the stands there's a trumpeter and a tromboner and a drummer, a brass band trying not to sound forlorn.

You also lose games when you get penalised all the time. The Blues gave up two penalty tries because they cynically broke the rules to try to prevent tries. Can you see the problem there, team?

And yet. We are the hopeful. The five New Zealand teams played three games over the weekend and nobody won or lost by more than two points. That means they're all closed up. The Blues are back, baby, and I am definitely hopeful.

Simon Wilson's Blue Mondays, a fan follows the Blues, will appear throughout the Super Rugby season.