Blues lose captain Tuipulotu as they adopt 'old school' values in Super Rugby title push

Sun, Jun 9, 2024, 7:51 AM
AFP
by AFP

Game-breaking back Rieko Ioane says "old school" methods introduced by coach Vern Cotter have the Blues well placed to end a 21-year Super Rugby title drought.

Cotter's no-frills style has been a hallmark of his first season in charge as the Blues prepare for a semi-final against the ACT Brumbies at Eden Park on Friday.

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New Zealand's biggest and richest franchise has failed to meet expectations since clinching their third title in 2003, falling short when the silverware looked within their grasp in each of the last two seasons.

A loss to the Crusaders in the 2022 final was followed by a heavy defeat to the same opponents in last year's semi-finals.

With the slumping 12-time champion Crusaders having failed to reach the playoffs this year, All Blacks midfield back Ioane believes the Blues are ready to reclaim the title.

He says former Scotland and Fiji national coach Cotter, 62, had transformed the team's forward play since Leon MacDonald left the post last year to take up an All Blacks assistant role.

Cotter played and coached for long periods at French club level and Ioane said his hard-nosed methodology had rubbed off.

"Vern's been awesome, he knows what buttons to press at the right times," he said.

"Obviously we've gone decent in the last couple of years but he brings that old school edge which is something that the Blues have needed.

"Our forwards are the main reason we're hoping for a deep finals run. Vern's style of play, straight up the guts, is exactly what the athletes in our team like to do."

The Blues are likely to be without in-form captain and lock Patrick Tuipulotu, who suffered knee damage in their quarter-final against the Fijian Drua.

Tuipulotu was part of a muscular pack that crushed the Brumbies in a 46-7 win when the teams met in Auckland seven weeks ago.

Brumbies coach Stephen Larkham admitted a change of approach would be needed if they're to end a decade-long run without success in Auckland.

Australia's flag-bearing side have been eliminated at the semi-final stage in each of the last three seasons, including a last gasp loss to the Blues in 2022.

"We've been in this situation and we know we've achieved nothing yet," Larkham said.

"We've played over there once this year and it didn't work for us. This one will mean a lot."

Larkham said veteran Wallabies prop James Slipper was likely to return from a calf injury.

The second semi-final is between the top-qualifying Hurricanes and the Chiefs on Saturday.

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