Super Rugby: Playoffs or bust for new-look Blues

They've been the worst performing Kiwi side in Super Rugby for the last eight years, but both externally and internally, the Blues are believed the ones to watch in 2018.

After significant personnel and player changes over the off-season, it's now playoffs or bust for the Auckland franchise.

In four seasons with the Blues, lynchpin Rieko Ioane's only known disappointment - and he's had enough of it.

"Let's be real here, we've under-performed every year, so a success for me is only making the playoffs," Ioane told Newshub.

The Blues haven't been there since 2011, but a change in attitude has been central to what they hope will be a change in fortune.

"We're a young team and a new side, but those excuses are old now. We've been a young and new side for a while, so the proof has to be in the pudding."

New coach Leon MacDonald is driving that change, starting with a strenuous off-season.

"It's one of the hardest ones that I've ever had to do. They're really testing the boys and the boys are just hungrier this year.

One such player is number eight Akira Ioane, who has long been ridiculed for his fitness, but now thinks he's the fittest he's ever been - and this is the strongest he's seen the Blues.

That hasn’t gone unnoticed by some of the other franchises.

"They've always had the talent, but it seems like they've got more talent than ever now," said Chiefs prop Angus Ta'avao.

Crusaders hooker Codie Taylor concurs. Taylor is very familiar with MacDonald's and knows how much of an impact his former coach could have up north.

"Look at that squad - I'm pretty sure their backline is bigger than their bloody forward pack.

"You combine his smarts and talents, and his desire to get better every week with the talent the Blues have, and it's recipe for disaster if you're going up against them."

Now the Blues hope they have the same impact later in the season, as they look to end their seven-year playoff drought.


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