In their first game at Eden Park following a season that Blues fans would love to forget, Auckland destroyed their arch-rivals, the Crusaders, 34-15.
This was not just a win. It was a statement.
The Blues crossed the chalk five times while keeping the Crusaders try-less (with a bit of help from TMO Ben Skeen). They dominated the seven-time champs in almost every facet of the game, controlling territory and possession. They showcased a brand of creative rugby that their opponents had no answer for, offloading at will and spreading a carries. You'd think they were playing league out there. Their set pieces still need some fine tuning, but when it's all said and done the scoreboard is what matters the most.
Players who underperformed last year looked like entirely new men. Perhaps the best example of this was captain Ali Williams. Many Blues fans were surprised with his appointment as captain because he played with little passion and effort. But thus far, he has proven himself a capable captain, leading the team with his workrate and physical play, both of which were missing from his game last year.
He wasn't the only one who showed some improvement. George Moala has run like a beast and hasn't been the liability on defense that he was last year. Tom McCartney is running the ball powerfully and has improved his ball security. Young guns Charles Piutau and Steven Luatua built on their promising debuts from last year, looking like they could be key Blues players for years to come, and topping it off is Piri Weepu, who has managed to keep the weight off and is making plays from the back of the ruck.
New acquisitions Frank Halai and Chris Noakes have wasted no time settling into their new uniforms. Halai has built on his outstanding Sevens season with four tries in his first two Super Rugby games. Noakes, despite some ordinary seasons in the ITM Cup with the Highlanders, has run the backline with authority, with his cross kick to Halai being one of the highlights of the night.
Carter and Dagg were the only real threats coming from the Crusaders, who looked out of sync for most of the night. They were superior in the scrums and the line-outs, but couldn't produce anything from them. The loss should make for an interesting rematch in Christchurch later this year.
It's only been two games but it's clear that these Blues mean business. Tonight was the first Blues game in a few years where I actually struggled to find a seat. They've got their fans back, now it's time to keep them.
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