Blues (Super Rugby)
|Union||New Zealand Rugby Union|
|Location||Auckland, New Zealand|
|Ground(s)||Eden Park (Capacity: 50,000)|
|Most caps||Keven Mealamu (164)|
|Top scorer||Adrian Cashmore (617)|
5th (New Zealand Conference) |
7th (Australasian Group)
The Blues (formerly known as the Auckland Blues until 2000) are a professional rugby union team based in Auckland, New Zealand who play in the Super Rugby competition. Like New Zealand's four other Super Rugby regional franchises, the Blues were established by the NZRU in 1996. One of the most successful teams in Super Rugby history, the Blues won the competition in each of its first two seasons, 1996 and 1997, and again in 2003. Additionally, the team were finalists in 1998 and semi-finalists in 2007 and 2011. The team is captained by Jerome Kaino and coached by Tana Umaga.
Formation and Early Years (1994–97)
Along with New Zealand's other Super Rugby sides, the Blues were established by the NZRU to take part in the newly formed Super 12 competition which, involved teams from South Africa and Australia in addition to New Zealand. Each of New Zealand's five sides represented a number of provincial unions, with the Blues representing the Auckland, Counties Manukau and Thames Valley unions, while the neighbouring Waikato Chiefs representing the Waikato, Bay of Plenty, King Country, Northland and North Harbour unions. As the amount of international representatives in the Auckland region was thought to be unfair, it was split up between The Blues and The Chiefs. During this era, the Blues played the majority of their home matches at Eden Park, with round robin fixtures occasionally held at Growers Stadium in Pukekohe.
The Blues tasted immediate success, winning the Super 12 back-to-back in 1996 and 1997. In 1996 the side won eight of eleven round robin matches and finished the regular season in second place (behind the Queensland Reds on 41 points. They then went on to defeat Northern Transvaaal, now the Bulls, 48–11 in the semi-final at Eden Park. This result secured a home final, where the Blues comfortably defeated the Sharks 45–21. In 1997, the side improved on their previous season, comfortably topping the table with 50 points after going undefeated in the regular season, the sole blemish on an otherwise perfect season being a draw with Northern Transvaal in a re-match of the previous season's semi-final. The Blues once again easily won their semi-final, defeating the Sharks 55–36 at Eden Park and again securing a home final. The 1997 final was a more hard fought encounter than the previous year's, with the Blues defeating the ACT Brumbies 23–7.
Middle Years (1998–2005)
By the end of the 1990s the number of international representatives from the Blues region had decreased. This led the Blues and the Chiefs to arrange a swap, where the Chiefs would represent the Thames Valley and Counties Manukau provincial unions in exchange for the Blues representing the Northland and North Harbour unions in addition to Auckland. Although in the seasons leading up to the trade North Harbour and Northland had outperformed Counties Manukau and Thames Valley in provincial rugby (thus potentially widening the already sizeable gap between the Blues' and Chiefs' on-field performance), it enabled both teams to represent unions in closer geographical proximity. Because of this trade, the Blues lost the area colloquially referred to as South Auckland, (excluding those portions of the South Auckland to the north of Manurewa). Thus, the Blues traded a portion of South Auckland for the Northern portion of the Auckland region and Northland, and still do not represent the entire Auckland region. Generally supporters in the South Auckland region identify as Blues supporters even though they are technically in the Chiefs region. In 2000 all of New Zealand's Super 12 franchises dropped the leading province identifiers from their official names and became truly regional.
The 1998 season saw the Blues again top the points table with 43 points at the conclusion of the round robin, with nine wins and two losses to their credit. They defeated the Otago Highlanders by 37–31 in the side's third consecutive home semi-final, securing a home final against the Crusaders, a match which promised a great deal due to Auckland's traditional sporting rivalry with Canterbury. The Crusaders ultimately won the match by 20–13, putting an end to the Blues' dominance of the competition.
From 1999 – 2002 the Blues' onfield performance was poor, missing the playoffs every season, finishing at an all-time low of 11th on the ladder in 2001 with just four wins for the season. The club was able to turn its from around in the 2003 season, topping the ladder with 49 points and 10 wins from 11 matches. The team went on to defeat the ACT Brumbies by 42–21 in the semi-final, before beating the Crusaders 21–17 in the final for the franchise's third Super Rugby title. The Blues were unable to follow their 2003 success up in 2004 and 2005 however, missing the playoffs in both seasons.
Super 14 Era (2006–10)
The expanded 14 team competition couldn't have started worse for the Blues, who were in 2006 forced by the NZRU to include North Harbour captain Rua Tipoki in their squad of 24 players who are 'protected' from the draft. Tipoki was originally to be excluded from the draft due to personal circumstances to stay in Auckland. Andrew Mehrtens had in the past done this with the Crusaders. The NZRU however forced coach David Nucifora to pick Tipoki in his 24-man squad and hence drop another player. It is believed the NZRU was in favour of dropping players such as Isa Nacewa who are ineligible to play for the All Blacks. Instead, Nucifora excluded All Black Isaia Toeava, who subsequently played for the Hurricanes in 2006. Following the draft fiasco, and the forgettable season which followed, the Blues showed signs of resurgence in 2007, finishing the round robin in fourth place, securing a semi-final against the Sharks in Durban. The travel and form of the opposition were too difficult to overcome, however, with the Blues losing to the eventual runners-up by 34 – 18. The 2008 season, the final under coach David Nucifora, saw the team finish the season with an 8 – 5 record and a sixth-place finish on the ladder. In 2009, Pat Lam was appointed as coach, however the team was not able to make significant improvements under his leadership for the remainder of Super 14, missing the playoffs in both the 2009 and 2010 seasons.
Super Rugby Era (2011–present)
In 2011 the Super Rugby competition was expanded to 15 teams and adopted a conference format. The Blues had a successful start to the season, defeating the Crusaders by 24–22 at Eden Park. This was followed by a win and a loss on their South African tour, followed by a 22-all draw against the Western Force in Perth. This was followed by a seven match winning streak between rounds five and twelve. However, the mid-season winning streak came to an abrupt end with a 37 – 31 loss to the Queensland Reds in Brisbane, which initiated a four match losing-streak. In the final round-robin match of the season, the Blues defeated the Highlanders by 33–16 at Eden Park, securing the side's first playoff appearance since 2007 and first home playoff match since 2003. The team subsequently defeated the New South Wales Waratahs 26 – 13 to secure a semi-final against the Queensland Reds in Brisbane, which they lost 30–13.
The 2011 season also marked the departure of Kurtis Haiu, who was diagnosed with a bone tumour in April. Following his diagnosis, he took an indefinite break from rugby to focus on his health.
2012, the team's fourth season under coach Pat Lam, saw the arrival of former Hurricanes icons, and 2011 Rugby World Cup winners, Ma'a Nonu and Piri Weepu. The regular season began on 24 February against the Crusaders at Eden Park. Following two successive losses to start the season, the side's first victory came away to the Bulls, with starting debutant Gareth Anscombe scoring all of the Blues points in the 29–23 win. In doing so, Anscombe set a team record for most points in a match. In the same match, Rene Ranger became the first Blues player to receive a White Card, which resulted in a two-week suspension. Seven consecutive losses followed, beginning with the Stormers in round four, and finishing with the Hurricanes in round eleven. Growing frustration amongst fans was evident during this period, with racist remarks directed at coach Pat Lam via social media, talkback radio and the Blues own website. Lam, who is of Samoan descent, received support from a number of former Blues players during this period, including Michael Jones and Eroni Clarke. After beating the Lions in round twelve, the Blues suffered the biggest defeat in club history with a 59 – 12 loss away to the Crusaders, which was followed by losses at home to the Highlanders and table-topping Chiefs. The Blues finished the season on a high note, with wins against the Western Force and Brumbies.
On 17 July, Pat Lam was released. On the same day, Sir John Kirwan was appointed as head coach for the 2013 and 2014 seasons. In August, the Blues' full coaching staff for the 2013 season was announced, with Sir Graham Henry taking on a role as technical advisor and defensive coach, Mick Byrne appointed forwards and kicking coach, and Grant Doorey appointed skills and backline coach.
The 2013 season saw an all new Blues team with many players leaving, including Ma'a Nonu to the Highlanders and Gareth Anscombe to the Chiefs. On the morning of 31 October 2012 new coach Sir John Kirwan announced the 2013 Blues squad which included 14 Super Rugby debutants, and Ali Williams taking over as captain. Handed a bye on the first round the Blues started the regular season on 23 February 2013 with a 34–20 away win against the Hurricanes, followed by a 34–15 home win against the Crusaders the next week. 3 consecutive losses followed, including the Bulls first victory at Eden Park. The Blues regained some form again, winning 4 of the next 5 games. Beating the Highlanders at home and completing the double over the Hurricanes with a 28–6 win at Eden Park before losing a close game against the Reds. The Blues then defeated both the Stormers and the Rebels before losing 3 games in a row to the Crusaders, Brumbies, and Highlanders respectively. The Blues then travelled to South Africa with two must win games against the Sharks and the Cheetahs, unfortunately losing both and ending the Blues chances of making the play-offs. Ali Williams played his 100th game for the Blues against the Sharks. The Blues returned to New Zealand with a last home game against the already play-off qualified Chiefs. Despite a red card to Kane Barrett for stomping in the 23rd minute, the Blues played a remarkably strong game, taking the lead just after half-time but a yellow card to first-five Baden Kerr struck another blow for the Blues. The mounting Chiefs pressure paid off resulting in a Ben Tameifuna try with 17 minutes to go, winning the game for the Chiefs. The Blues walked off the field to a standing ovation from their fans, the first time an Eden Park crowd had been upstanding for a defeat.
The Blues finished the season in 10th place, with 6 players earning All Black call ups and Frank Halai as the team's top try scorer scoring 10 tries in his debut season. They signed international super star Benji Marshall for the 2014 season (only to return to league with the Dragons half way through it) and Ma'a Nonu for two seasons starting in 2014.
Super 12 Super 14 Super Rugby
A season-by-season summary of Blues regular season results and playoff fixtures is shown below:
|1996||11||8||0||3||408||354||+54||9||41||1st||(defeated Sharks in final)|
|1997||11||10||1||0||435||283||+152||8||50||1st||(defeated ACT Brumbies in final)|
|1998||11||9||0||2||388||298||+90||7||43||2nd||(lost to Crusaders in final)|
|2003||11||10||0||1||393||185||+208||9||49||1st||(defeated Crusaders in final)|
|2007||13||9||0||4||355||235||+120||6||42||4th||(lost to Sharks in semi-final)|
|2011||16||10||1||5||405||335||+70||10||60||4th||(lost to Queensland Reds in semi-final)|
Super 12/14 (1996–2010)
- Champions (3)
- Runners-up (1)
- Playoff Appearances (1)
Super Rugby (2011–present)
- Playoff Appearances (1)
The Gordon Hunter Memorial Trophy is contested between the Blues and Highlanders as a part of regular season fixtures between the two sides. The trophy is awarded in memory of Gordon Hunter, who had been head coach of both teams prior to his passing in 2002. The Highlanders currently hold the trophy after defeating the Blues in round 16 of the 2013 season.
The team's primary home ground is Eden Park, located in the central Auckland suburb of Kingsland. The stadium has a capacity of 50,000. In addition to hosting Blues home matches, the ground is the home of the Auckland Rugby Football Union and Auckland Cricket, and is a frequent host of All Blacks matches, and hosted the 2011 Rugby World Cup semi-finals, third-place playoff, and final.
|QBE Stadium||Eden Park||Toll Stadium|
|Capacity: 30,000||Capacity: 60,000||Capacity: 18,500|
Franchise area and ownership
The Blues represent the Auckland, North Harbour, and Northland rugby unions. Since 2014 the regional franchise until 2020 has been owned 60% (divided 65%, 29% and 6%) by the three provincial unions through Rugby Holdings Ltd and 40% by private investor Bolton Equities Ltd.
Up to and including 2010, all New Zealand-based Super Rugby sides were able to protect 24 players from within their region each season. Players not protected by the Blues could be selected by any of the other four New Zealand teams for that season, while the Blues were also able to bring in players from other regions for the season. The team had predominantly drawn its players from its own unions, with the vast majority of players hailing from Auckland, however in recent years several notable players have been signed from outside the region, such as Stephen Brett, Alby Mathewson, Ma'a Nonu and Piri Weepu.
From 2011 onwards, the NZRU has relaxed the rules imposed on teams in terms of player recruitment. New Zealand teams will move to a direct-contracting recruitment format, which will enable each team to field two foreign (non-New Zealand or Pacific Island) players each season, in addition to squad sizes increasing from 28 to 32 players.
The current Blues (and Auckland Rugby Football Union) CEO is former Counties and New Zealand player Andy Dalton. Along with Dalton, Gary Whetton, Grant Fox, Geoff Vazey, Mike Budd, John Morgan and Andrew Golightly make up the Blues board. In April 2012, Gary Whetton was appointed chairman of the board following the resignation of Greg Muir. His place as Auckland Rugby Union board representative was taken by Glenn Wahlstrom.
The Blues have fielded a development team in competitions such as the Pacific Rugby Cup and in matches against other representative teams for several seasons. Known as the Blues Development XV, the squad is selected from the best emerging rugby talent in the Blues catchment area and is composed of Blues contracted players, wider training group members, under 20s, and selected club players.
The squad for the 2017 Super Rugby season:
|Blues Super Rugby squad|
First Five-Eighths (Fly-halves)
|(c) Denotes team captain, Bold denotes internationally capped.|
Current internationally capped players
Coaches and management
- Sir Graham Henry (Technical advisor and defensive coach)
- Mick Byrne (Forwards and kicking coach)
- Grant Doorey (Backs and skills coach)
- Bryce Anderson – Manager
- Zinzan Brooke (1996–97)
- Michael Jones (1998)
- Robin Brooke (1999–2001)
- Glenn Taylor (2002)
- Xavier Rush (2003–05)
- Keven Mealamu (2006, 2009-12)
- Troy Flavell (2007–08)
- Ali Williams (2013)
- Luke Braid (2014)
- Jerome Kaino (2015–)
- James Parsons (2016–)
- Sir Graham Henry (1996–98)
- Jed Rowlands (1999)
- Gordon Hunter (2000)
- Frank Oliver (2001)
- Peter Sloane (2002–05)
- David Nucifora (2006–08)
- Pat Lam (2009–12)
- Sir John Kirwan (2013–15)
- Tana Umaga (2016–)
Records and achievements
|1.||Keven Mealamu||164||2000–2001; 2003–2015|
|2.||Tony Woodcock||137||2002–2012; 2014–2015|
|3.||Jerome Kaino||119||2004−2012; 2014−present|
|9.||Justin Collins||93||1999–2000; 2002–2009|
|3.||Luke McAlister||389||2004–2007; 2010–2011|
|6.||Rudi Wulf||20||2005; 2007–10; 2012|
|Troy Flavell||14||1999–2003; 2006–2008|
Most points in a match
|5.||Carlos Spencer||23||Western Province||1996|
Most tries in a match
|Rua Tipoki||Western Force||2006|
|Joe Rokocoko||Western Force||2010|
Most points in a season
Most tries in a season
- Highest Regular Season Placing: 1st (1996, 1997, 2003)
- Most Wins in a Season: 10 (1997, 2003, 2011)
- Most Points in a Season: 435 (1997)
- Biggest Win: 60 – 7 (2002, Game 1 vs. Hurricanes – Wellington)
- Biggest Loss: 12 – 59 (2012 vs. Crusaders at Rugby League Park)
Overall regular-season record
- Games played: 255
- Games won: 134
- Games lost: 117
- Games drawn: 4
- Winning percentage: 52.5%
- Points for: 6793
- Points against: 6159
- Gray, Wynne (29 October 2005). "The standoff that sent Toeava south". New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 21 September 2011.
- Gray, Wynne (28 April 2011). "Rugby: Haiu on leave after tests confirm bone tumour". New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 15 September 2011.
- NZPA (27 April 2011). "Rugby: Haiu to take leave due to bone tumour". New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 15 September 2011.
- "Blues profile". Fox Sports Australia. Retrieved 17 March 2012.
- Gray, Wynne (11 April 2012). "Rugby: Pat Lam breaks down over racist taunts". New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 13 April 2012.
- Dickinson, Michael; McKendry, Patrick (13 April 2012). "Blues brothers rally round beleaguered Lam". New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 13 April 2012.
- APNZ (17 July 2012). "Kirwan 'thrilled' to be new coach of Blues". New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 17 July 2012.
- APNZ (22 August 2012). "Henry joins Blues coaching team". New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 23 August 2012.
- "All Blacks: Nonu picks Highlanders – Sport – NZ Herald News". The New Zealand Herald. 16 October 2012.
- "Eden Park". ESPN Scrum. Retrieved 15 February 2012.
- "Gary Whetton elected as new Blues chairman" (Press release). Blues. 20 April 2012. Retrieved 21 April 2012.
- Burnes, Campbell (23 May 2014). "Rugby: Blues side offer an ideal stern challenge for Juniors". NZ Herald. Archived from the original on 19 August 2014.
- "Blues XV v Chiefs Development". Getty Images. 13 March 2007.
- "Experienced players return for 2017" (Press release). Blues. 2 November 2016. Archived from the original on 1 November 2016. Retrieved 1 November 2016.
2002 – Crusaders
|Super 12 Champions
1996 (first title) – 1997 (second title)
2003 (third title)
| Succeeded by|
1998 – Crusaders
2004 – Brumbies