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It seems a long time ago that the Blues were the unbeatable force of Super Rugby.
During those glory years they boasted many of the biggest names in rugby and cruised through to two consecutive championships, before being upset for the third.
For whatever reason, that success hasn’t come so readily since then, and other than their memorable championship in 2003, they have been the great under-performers of the competition.
This reached an all-time low last year, as they limped to a lowly 12th place after being dubbed one of the major contenders earlier in the season.
But don’t write the 2013 Blues off based on that. They have a new coaching staff, a new team and youth in bucket-loads, all of which will bring back some of the enthusiasm that went missing last year.
They will be dangerous in the backs, possessing perhaps more flair and X-factor than any other team in the competition. How well their forward pack competes will be telling and will determine how far the team goes.
Historically, this has been the case: When they bring their physical game they are one of the toughest teams to beat in the competition.
Whether they can do this consistently or not is another thing, particularly given the amount of youth and inexperience in the team. It is this that would make the playoffs a fairly optimistic goal for the Blues this year.
They are by no means easy beats and are capable of beating any team on their day, but doing this every week in a long campaign is another thing, and that may trip them up.
That said, anything could happen if they get their tails up, and as their three championships show, they are a franchise capable of winning.
Key Player: Keven Mealamu. If the Blues are going to compete this year, they need to gain dominance upfront in order to get their backs some ball to work with. This all starts with the experienced Keven Mealamu, so strong around the fringes and one of the hardest working front-rowers around. If he brings physicality to the game, the younger players will follow his lead, which will create a very dangerous Blues team.
Youngster to Watch: Charles Piutau. We only saw a glimpse of him towards the end of last year’s Super 15, but after a stellar ITM Cup with Auckland, Charles Piutau has proven his worth and will be key for the Blues this year. He is one of the most dangerous attacking players going around, capable of coming into the line and wreaking havoc, whilst also cutting a defence to pieces on the counter.