Beauden Barrett's hint that he may play for the Blues a little earlier than previously thought may have lifted moods at the franchise but few things will please coach Leon MacDonald in the short term more than a victory in Cape Town against the Stormers.
Another win on Sunday after their last-minute heroics against the Bulls at Loftus Versfeld will consolidate the Blues well into the top half of the table and in this competition – perhaps the weakest in years following the post World Cup departures of various top players – they could pose a serious playoffs threat.
• Rugby: Coronavirus threat forces postponement of Super Rugby fixture
• Rugby: Lack of meaningful tests is hurting the Southern Hemisphere game
• Rugby: Top Wallabies reveal Israel Folau drama split their World Cup squad
• NZ Herald owner NZME confirms interest in buying Stuff
They are currently seventh and sit above the Hurricanes and Highlanders, two teams still struggling to come to terms with personnel losses – including Barrett in the case of the Hurricanes, who were embarrassed by the Stormers in round one.
And if the Highlanders didn't have halfback Aaron Smith they would be in big trouble – he was easily their best attacking player in their defeat against the Crusaders in Christchurch last weekend and in saying that he made a couple of poor decisions with the ball when in the clear.
Even the Crusaders look rusty and the Chiefs' shock loss to the Brumbies suggested that not even the returning Warren Gatland is infallible.
The Stormers are Super Rugby's only unbeaten team but couldn't score a point in the final quarter of their 17-7 victory over the Jaguares at Newlands last weekend and if the Blues' forwards can re-create their set piece perfection from their last outing in Pretoria where their lineout and scrum improved significantly from the week before, they will create issues for the Stormers.
"We have had a long discussion with the players about this, and we are going full metal jacket," was their coach John Dobson's curious quote this week, a statement that leaves little doubt about how seriously he is taking the Blues.
AdvertisementAdvertise with NZME.
The Blues are not a great team – they lack leadership and good decision-makers, particularly in their backline, but they won't need to be have success this season. Barrett will help them significantly once he joins them on the pitch in April and a place in the top eight would represent success.
It's yet to be confirmed but to hear he wants to come back earlier than expected and potentially play against the Hurricanes at Eden Park on April 10 should be hugely reassuring.
If that is the case the hype around the match will make it one of the biggest the team has played in years. It will also prove wrong those who thought that Barrett's late start was motivated by not only the wish for a break but also the inclination to not play his former team this year.
New Zealand opposition remain a problem for the Blues – especially away from home. They haven't beaten a Kiwi outfit away since 2016 and the Hurricanes in Wellington on their return from South Africa will be a big challenge.
But if they can hang in there and score wins over the rest they could put themselves into contention.
The Blues last made the playoffs in 2011 and haven't won a Super Rugby title in 2003 – small steps yes but their long-suffering fans will be grateful they appear to be finally travelling in the right direction.
A first win in Cape Town for more than a decade would confirm that.