Super Rugby: Are the Blues Contenders or Pretenders?

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Super Rugby: Are the Blues Contenders or Pretenders?
Sandra Mu/Getty Images
Jared Payne making a break for the Blues against the Cheetahs.

The days of the Blues being the most feared team in Super Rugby seem a long time ago now.

It's now been eight years since the franchise last won the competition, with a dominant season that saw them lose just one game.

How things have changed.

Since then, they have made just one playoff appearance, and have struggled to carry form from one game to the next.

It is this that has become the Blues' main problem. One week they look like world beaters, the next they look as though they don't even belong in the competition.

Many have suggested that 2011 may be a new start for the Blues.

They certainly have the personnel to get the job done with a team full of All Blacks, as well as a coach who knows the game well in Pat Lam.

The franchise's trademark has always been their ability to create out wide with their dangerous outside backs that are generally second to none in the competition.

With Joe Rokocoko and Rene Ranger on the wings, this is certainly the case again this year. With Isaia Toeava in the form of his life at fullback, it seems they are as good as ever in that department.

Sandra Mu/Getty Images
Isaia Toeava makes a break for the Blues against the Cheetahs.

Jared Payne has also taken massive strides and seems to have carried his form from the ITM Cup through to Super Rugby; he has possibly been the Blues' best player this year. In him, they have a very able center to pair with the experience of Luke McAlister, making for a good midfield combination.

Stephen Brett, at first five, could be a perceived weakness, but he continues to improve and is gradually becoming more consistent in his game, while Alby Matthewson inside him is a player on the rise.

Up front, they boast an All Black tight five led by their captain, Keven Mealamu, one of the key figures in last year's All Black dominance.

Their looseforwards are also very good, with Jerome Kaino providing a hard edge and Peter Saili being an adept ball runner; while the injured Daniel Braid has proven time and again that he is a class No. 7.

After reading all that, you would come to the conclusion that the Blues are one of the teams to beat in this year's competition.

But are they?

Consistency is still a very real problem. While they have only lost one game so far, their opposition has hardly been top class, and the wins far from convincing.

Take their game against the Cheetahs over the weekend.

Where do you see the Blues finishing in 2011?

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This was a team who had been on the road for three weeks, struggled to win at homelet alone awayand was coming off the back end of a walloping from the Reds the previous week.

The Blues should have put them away. But for one reason or another, they failed to finish them off, and a seven point winning margin was the outcome.

A better team would have seen them beaten.

Yet they have also shown us just how well they can play. In round one, they beat a very good Crusaders outfit, a team that no one else has even come close to beating.

But that's just the Blues.

Their expansive style of play means that one week they could be world beaters, the next they could struggle to beat the minnows of the competitiondepending on whether their passes stick or not.

Another problem is that they have too many of the same types of players.

There's no real tactician on the team, just lots of dangerous runners who like to throw the ball around. They lack the structure to play a tight game where it is required.

This makes them one of the most dangerous sides in the competition, but also one of the most vulnerable; hence the inconsistency.

And it is this that will come back to haunt the Blues as it has done time and time again.

They have a very hard draw ahead of them and will need to maintain consistency in their form if they want to have a shot at winning the title; something they have struggled to do in recent years and are showing signs of struggling to do again this year.

Their potential is clear.

In a one-off game they would have a chance at beating any team in the competition. But unfortunately, one-off performances won't win you a championship.

And for now, that seems to be just where the Blues are at.

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