Battling the Blues
James Gemmell plots a potential route out of the mire for the troubled Blues on and off the field.
Last Updated: 13/04/12 9:26am
In a tough season, this has been the toughest week for Blues.
Disappointment followed the first up one-point loss to the Crusaders; the feeling of a missed opportunity. Two matches later and we saw a glimpse of potential in Pretoria, but it has been a rapid and constant decline since.
Defeat at the hands of the Melbourne Rebels in the last round was a new low. At least, a new low on the field.
In the space of the last seven days we've heard internal criticisms from skipper Keven Mealamu about the fitness and professionalism of team-mate Piri Weepu, and public criticisms of coach Pat Lam based, shockingly, on racial lines.
Once a mighty team, the Blues fired themselves mired in controversy and disharmony. For a side tipped by many as one to watch, it is a desperate situation. It has been the worst start to a season in their history.
Surely now, the only way is up. Let's consider how they might go about it, first up this weekend.
Even if playoff hopes are now likely beyond them, pride - both in the team and in themselves as individuals - must drive them forward. The Blues are three-time champions of Super Rugby, and against the Sharks at Eden Park on Friday, no less than five World Cup winning All Blacks are amongst their ranks. They certainly have the talent.
The external factors will also strengthen their resolve. Cowardly comments made behind the anonymity of social media have linked the performance of the team with the Samoan heritage of Pat Lam.
The comments have been carried forward into mainstream media and the topic has dominated both the front and back pages in New Zealand.
Although Lam was singled out, the remarks were a broadside at the Polynesian make-up of the team itself, and the effect that may have on the way they have been playing. If motivation were needed to resurrect their on-field performance, it's hard to imagine a greater incentive for the Blues on Friday.
Such motivation in itself, of course, is not enough week on week, and the question remains, with so much of the season still to play, how do they recapture the form we all know they are capable of?
Well, no shining armour in sight, but they may just have a knight to help them through. Since stepping down from the All Blacks, Sir Graham Henry has been offering support and imparting knowledge to all New Zealand Super Rugby coaches.
The Blues are his old team, Auckland his home town, and it is expected he will spend a little more time with them over the coming weeks. He's had a magic touch with them in the past - coaching them to victory in 1996 and 1997, and returning from Wales in 2003 as a 'Technical Advisor' , the last time the Blues were crowned Super Rugby champions.
In 2004 Henry took over the All Blacks, and he'll draw on all of the experience he's picked up down the years to guide the team through their current troubles.
It remains to be seen if Henry's presence alone can right the wrongs, but if he can draw on the talent the Blues so blatantly possess, if the turbulence of the last week serves to galvanise them, and if the players themselves have the desire to turn things around, then maybe, and hopefully, the worst will be behind the Blues.