Why the Blues are going OK...



  • Righto, bear with me please.  This post is why I think the Blues are tracking along OK this season, despite the scorn and vitriol being heaped on them from some quarters (Rugby scribes, Ferners, everyone outside Auckland basically).  
     
    Obviously I'm not saying that we're dominant, or even going well, but the green shoots of recovery are there.
     
    1 - Results 
    Won v Highlanders 33-31
    Lost v Crusaders 28-13
    Lost v Canes 19-23
    Draw Reds 25-25
    Won v Jaguares 24-16
    Lost v Chiefs 29-23
    Won v Sharks 23-18
     
    So overall 3-1-3.  But here's the thing - we've lost to NZ teams, and except for the Crusaders, we have been bloody competitive.  In every other game (Reds included), we had the opportunity to score a try to win.  Yes, I know we lost, but by god this is a young team... so see below.  Win a bunch of games against foreign teams in the next few weeks, and you'd say it's been an OK season.
     
    2 - Potential to improve
    let's be honest, we've been playing pretty crap.  Our backline sometimes stands static, we seem to introduce new players and chop and change.  We have about 6 wingers in our squad, two 10s and no midfielders or fullbacks.  Our 9 and 10 haven't played particularly well.  There are glaring weaknesses around the paddock tactically ... and yet we're right up there at the business end of games.  In short, there is a shedload of potential in this outfit, and I don't think we are far away from starting to unlock it.
     
    Tana needs to bring more structure to the team, but that takes time and practice.  I reckon he's looking hard at next year, and laying some foundations this year.
     
    3 - Good things
    Fitness looks good - we're finishing strongly
    Scrum has improved dramatically since the Crusaders debacle in the first half
    Attitude in the squad looks sound
     
    4 - Recruitment and retention
    This is one of the key pointers for me.  Previously we were wrecking players and coaches careers left, right and centre.  In the last few weeks we've signed Augustine Pulu (hurrah!) and re-signed big Patrick T.  These boys are coming or staying because of Tana.  We are almost at the point where at 10 may consider moving to the Blues... which is not where we were at the start of the season.  If the environment and coaching is good, then players will stay on and keep playing
     
    5 - Development
    We're starting to see players coming regularly out of our development system and playing at a high level at Super.  Keep those boys and you can start to build a team.  Over the last few years we've seen Charlie Piutau (a massive loss), the Ioane brothers, Blake Gibson on top of a number of players who are Super level .  
     
    So, overall, there are pleasing signs.  It's not blind faith in Tana, but after the recent seasons we have had, there is at least light at the end of the tunnel.  Here's hoping that it's not an oncoming train!
     
     
     
    As an aside, I've been trying to figure out if Luatua is playing really well, or very poorly.  I think he's going fine - he's doing a load of tight work at 8, and seems to be bulking up to turn into a lock/loose cover.  This is the way the ABs use him, but it means he doesn't seem to be out in the open so much.  Other than a few ball drops, I think he's having a good year and I'd expect him to get into the AB squad as bench cover.



  • Blues will start looking better and better as the other NZ teams start beating each other up.



  • Good post.
     
    Other than in the 1st game we've been pretty crap but not been far off winning most games, and actually managed to win  a few of them.
     
    Could be much worse placed on the table given how average we've looked.



  • Tana needs to bring more structure to the team, but that takes time and practice.  I reckon he's looking hard at next year, and laying some foundations this year.

    Yep, I reckon Tana has written this season off as a develop and learn season, and has pretty much had his eyes fixed on 2017, despite the obvious issues with development and confidence of the way he had been doing things.



  • I agree with you nzzp and you haven't even mentioned the possibility of SBW being there next year.
     
    Maybe Blues fans are also coming around to seeing that their team isn't as bad as the think solely based on 'W's". JKs teams would often have runs of good games that went unrewarded through the odd bit of bad luck or reffing errors but the team itself still copped shit from the fans making it a downward spiral of frustration for everyone.



  • I agree with you nzzp and you haven't even mentioned the possibility of SBW being there next year.

    Is this a thing?  If we could nab him that'd be awesome.  He could wreak some merry havoc with some of the wingers we've got running off him
     
     
    also, a shout out to our forward pack.  Quietly going along well I think.



  • I think it is a definite possibility. He is off contract with the Chiefs and although there will be some loyalty to them there is also the bond with Tana that saw him sign with CM.



  • Crucial you should write an article for the Herald about it.
     
    So far they've reported.
     
    SBW is going to the roosters
    SBW is going to Toulon
    SBW is signing with the chiefs/NZRFU and continuing his boxing career
     
    probably some more I've missed ignored 🙂



  • The Blues lineout is pretty strong as well. There are some building blocks there



  • Crucial you should write an article for the Herald about it.
     
    So far they've reported.
     
    SBW is going to the roosters
    SBW is going to Toulon
    SBW is signing with the chiefs/NZRFU and continuing his boxing career
     
    probably some more I've missed ignored 🙂

    I think you may have missed these.
     
     
    Sonny Bill Williams and Umaga are close and the Blues are keen to see if they can prise the All Black midfielder from the Chiefs.

    Chiefs coach Dave Rennie confirmed to Fairfax Media this week he is keen to retain Williams, who played 28 matches for the Hamilton-based franchise and won a title with them in 2012. Williams is contracted to the Chiefs this year but opted to play sevens this year.
    Blues coach Tana Umaga has a strong relationship with Williams, too. The pair first linked at Toulon when Williams switched from the Bulldogs in 2008, and again with Umaga guiding Counties Manukau in 2014.
    "If Sonny Bill decides to stay in New Zealand, we'd love to have someone of his calibre with us," Umaga said. "It goes without saying what he's achieved as a player and what he's like as a person, I'm fortunate to know that.
    "An environment that's young like ours, he would add immense value. He likes to make sure he's up for a challenge and we all know the Lions are coming so that could keep him. But you never know.
    "Sonny doesn't make emotional decisions. He likes to go into a good environment. He's got connections with Dave and the Chiefs, and is part of the reason why they are what they are at the moment.
    "But if he's up for a challenge with us, hopefully he'd think about that."

    http://www.stuff.co.nz/sport/rugby/super-rugby/78736957/nz-rugby-clears-sonny-bill-williams-return-to-ring-as-chiefs-and-blues-chase



  • Good post NZZP. I mostly agree.
    However, Barry Schwartz would tell you that the secret to happiness is low expectations.
    I can't stop thinking about that every time I hear some one talk about how the Blues are 'building'.
    Their set piece is pretty good, and they've got some forwards who are working their asses off (Luatua particularly). Their defense is pretty reasonable too, which is keeping them in games.
    But, without some 1-minute magic from Ioane or ANother, they'd have lost at least one more and I wonder what we'd be saying then.
    Furthermore, they haven't looked as good in any games since their first. That Reds game really fucked things around, and since then all I can see is deck-chairs have been moved and 'planning' for next year. But, I'm not sure it's even good ' planning'- Francis is definitely not the answer at 2nd five, they dropped the guy who put in the best shift at FB, and they continue to be deep on attack.
    They are losing two guys who've been really adding (Ioanes) and Gibson being injured has hurt them at the breakdown.
    So, I'm selling. I reckon they might have a bit of a hard run home, despite having already played the kiwi teams. Hope I'm wrong (and going by my tipping, that's more than likely).



  • But, without some 1-minute magic from Ioane or ANother, they'd have lost at least one more and I wonder what we'd be saying then.

    Yep, but if we had a different ref in teh Canes game we may have gone 4-1-2 and everyone would be banging on about how great we are.  
     
    I'm not too worried about results this year, if the team can build and show improvement that's a win for me.  Low expectations is the lot of a Blues fan these days!  The post was there to make the point that, unlike previously years, I think there are some tangible things that indicate improvement in the side.
     
    Will be an interesting second half of the year.  Pro rugby takes its toll on bodies, and I expect us to fade.  Still, mid table would be sound given our start and the bodies coming next year.



  • everyone outside Auckland basically

    Hasn't it been the opposite? It seems to be the Blues fans (on here anyway) who are hardest on the team - expecting them to be the 1996/1997/2003 teams.



  • There's a bit more grit in this team than last year, even though there's still a lot of the same players in the squad. With the late coaching appointment, we weren't really able to make any big upgrades to any position in the off-season, but we've clearly made some strides this season.
     
    I'm honestly not too worried about the future of the Blues, as I think we have a decent base to build off of and have some good talent coming through. I think we can fill a lot of our weak positions in the next couple of years, as well as add some good depth to the team. Like myself, Auckland Rugby probably believe in the talent coming through, as they've now increased their academy spots per year from 12 to 24, which is a pretty big deal to me.
     
    In recent years, the ARU and Blues have been putting a lot more work into the grade programs and appear to me to have adopted a 'leave no stone unturned' mentality - this, along with many schools up here playing more structured and a high percentage style of rugby, has meant more rounded and higher IQ players being developed. I remember several years back when we could barely get a player to make NZ schools, but we've probably had the most in the last few years.
     
    I use to be a big critic of the ARU, but I've quickly become a bit of a fan of theirs. The hard work they've put in is definitely paying off for the Auckland ITM Cup team at the moment, and I think with a bit more time, the Blues will benefit from it too.



  • The ARU has definitely put in work at schoolboy 1st XV level.. I noticed the change maybe 4-5 years ago, and i think it is funneling through..



  • The thing is I'm not seeing any great coaching from Tana so far. Take the Chiefs game - great tries from Nanai and Ioane got you close but the Blues were completely outplayed. Having taken the lead, the Blues surrendered it very quickly. Against the Sharks last week, the Blues were outplayed in the first half but dominant in the second. Again though it was individual brilliance from Ioane that won them the game.
     
    The Blues had to do better this season. I think they are doing well because they have some of the best young players in the country. I'm yet to see a clear example of where Tana has created a game plan and got the Blues to follow through on it. I'm not criticising Tana for this and I think it was a good decision to appoint him coach. I'm just saying the jury is still out on whether he can get a team together which can compete for the title.



  • Threads like this are very similar to the early days of Hammett at the Canes



  • I never backed Hammett to get the best out of the Canes.



  • Threads like this are very similar to the early days of Hammett at the Canes

    Hammett had better results at this stage 🙂



  • Hammett had better results at this stage 🙂
    Hammett had a better team at this stage. We really got to see his quality as a coach in the proceeding years when he had "his" team.



  • Hammett had better results at this stage 🙂

    As NQ says Hammett had a better team - I tried to float Kaino as the only top class player in the Blues and apparently he's hopeless too. 😉
     
    For a start, Hammett had these World Cup winners in his team: Hore, Nonu, Smith, Weepu, Cruden, Jane, and Victor Vito..



  • Hammett had better results at this stage 🙂

    We should also mention too, lest people start believing the propaganda coming out of the Village of the Damned, that the Hammettuer didn't have better results at this stage - the Canes were 2-5 after 7 games in his first year, with one postponed.



  • To get the thread back on track before the Cantab trolls derail it 😉 I think there are some hugely positive signs coming out of the Blues camp at the moment. Plenty of inexperience meaning the decision making isn't always the best but their defense and set piece are going very well, and they are an 80 minute team now. The only game they've been completely outplayed in is against the Saders. Otherwise they've either won or had narrow losses - and that's with a pretty dysfunctional attack. If they get that right then look out.



  • We're doing ok. As long as we concentrate on ourselves instead of the other NZ sides and play it game by game (cliche I know but it really does apply to us), we should have a good season. As has been said, Umaga looks to be building to next year which is fine and should be judged then instead of this season.



  • Hammett had a better team at this stage. We really got to see his quality as a coach in the proceeding years when he had "his" team.

    And look at the foundation he laid aye. Boyd is riding the coat tails big time 🙂



  • The other thing is that now only 40% of your games are against New Zealand teams. So far Tana is 1 from 4 versus NZ teams. Kirwan had to play 50% of his games against NZ teams. If Tana ends up at 7 wins, 7 losses and a draw but loses his remaining games against New Zealand teams then he has definitely benefited from a better draw.



  • An exciting new era for Auckland rugby, next year with a new coach and a bit of luck they could finish as high as 11th.



  • All a bit "I'm not fat, just big boned, anyway it's genetics and lot's of people like fuller figures"
     
    But by all means tell yourselves whatever you like...;)  🙂



  • We're doing ok. As long as we concentrate on ourselves instead of the other NZ sides and play it game by game (cliche I know but it really does apply to us), we should have a good season. As has been said, Umaga looks to be building to next year which is fine and should be judged then instead of this season.

    Totally agree. Unless the coach is doing egregious or baffling things (alienating players, one-dimensional or stuck-in-the-past tactics etc) the first year good or bad is pretty much a pass. By mid way point of the second year we will start to have a clearer picture.
     
    First year coaches have so many tools, tactics and options up their sleeve that can mask their true ability. Third and fourth year coaches not so much. This is also true for a certain coach of a TRC nation.



  • To get the thread back on track before the Cantab trolls derail it 😉 I think there are some hugely positive signs coming out of the Blues camp at the moment. Plenty of inexperience meaning the decision making isn't always the best but their defense and set piece are going very well, and they are an 80 minute team now. The only game they've been completely outplayed in is against the Saders. Otherwise they've either won or had narrow losses - and that's with a pretty dysfunctional attack. If they get that right then look out.

    Yep think this sums it up well. Definite positive steps made - it might not be pretty but at least they seem to be creating a proper team culture and are making progress in areas. 
     
    With Ranger out, it will be interesting to see what midfield combo they start with vs the Rebels and what impact that has on the attack. I hope Sau isn't brought back to 13 - he was very unimpressive in his outings since the opening round - i'd rather see Moala at 13 or Little. Given Rieko only has one more game there's probably not much point starting him at 13.



  • The ARU has definitely put in work at schoolboy 1st XV level.. I noticed the change maybe 4-5 years ago, and i think it is funneling through..

    They've also started holding combines for 1B and 1C schools. The Blues have also started combines for Northland and Harbour schools. They're really casting the net wide now.



  • yeah apparently the relationship between Northland and the Blues is better than it has been in many years (current CEO has been there 6 years I think - and think it would pre-date him by a number of years when it was last ok) seems to be a bit more presence in the communities than I can recall for at least a decade



  • yeah apparently the relationship between Northland and the Blues is better than it has been in many years (current CEO has been there 6 years I think - and think it would pre-date him by a number of years when it was last ok) seems to be a bit more presence in the communities than I can recall for at least a decade

    Could be Tana's doing? I remember hearing that Tana fixed the relationship between the players and the NZRU when he was captain of the All Blacks.
     
    When Tana became Counties coach, he made sure the team became more prevalent in the community.



  • I miss the days when everyone used to hate the Blues because they were so bloody good.



  • The world should worry if that happens again; when Auckland rugby is strong, NZ rugby is strong....given we have been in a lull for a while


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