Super Rugby Trans-Tasman: Blues captain Patrick Tuipulotu identifies reason behind Aussie Super Rugby improvement

While the results may not completely bear it out, the Australian contingent have clearly improved over the past fortnight of Super Rugby Trans-Tasman, according to Blues captain Patrick Tuipulotu.

NZ sides may have won 18 of 20 games against their Aussie counterparts, but the divide appears to be narrowing, evidenced during the last round, where a game Western Force pushed the Crusaders close in Christchurch and ACT Brumbies got the best of the Hurricanes.

Upon closer review, Tuipulotu has identified a key reason for the more competitive outings from the Australians, as they prepare to take on the Force at Eden Park on Sunday.

"We noticed, in the first couple rounds, Aussie teams had a shorter [defensive] line, which was easier to play outside," Tuipulotu tells Newshub.

"I think most of them have switched on and have a wider line now and they're able to sort of compress us going around. "I think that brings it back to playing through the middle and the forwards getting stuck in more.

"Watching last weekend's games, they're pretty tight contests, especially up front in the forward packs - pretty even."

Currently atop the competition standings, the Blues are in the box seat to clinch one of the two final places on offer in this last weekend of round-robin play.

In a highly competitive, albeit Kiwi-dominated field, a win - with or without bonus point - would ensure they advance to their first Super Rugby final appearance since 2011. A bonus point would see them host the season climax.

That fact isn't lost on the All Blacks lock and his teammates, who have been using their long drought as a primary source of motivation, particularly among local players who joined the franchise during their leaner years - of which there were plenty.

"We talk about it a lot," Tuipulotu admits. "I'm one of the old guys now and we talk about what it was like when we first got in, always looking up to all the other teams.

"These guys are hungry for success as well. They're from here - born and bred here - and we all want the same thing. 

"I think you'll find that's a driver for a lot of us who have been here through it all. It would be really special and quite uncharted territory for some of us."

That reversal in Blues fortunes began during last year's Super Rugby Aotearoa, where they shed their tag as perennial underachievers, playing an attractive brand of rugby to finish second to the champion Crusaders.

This year's edition of Super Rugby Aotearoa didn't bring the same results, but the Auckland-based team appear to have recaptured some of that 2020 form through the inaugural Australasian tournament.

Tuipulotu vouches for that improvement, but says there's no chance they'll rest on their laurels, with the prospect of a Super Rugby title dangling in front of them.

"It still feels like we can do more," he says. "I think it's a good thing for this group, that we still realise that we're falling short in a lot of areas.

"If we have that, there's always space for improvement and we have guys always seeking that improvement, but we have to be excited and we've got to enjoy the spot we're in.

"[A title] would be good for us and our region. We've seen the growth of Northland, North Harbour, and Auckland, so I think everything's on the up and for us to get that cup would mean a lot.

Join us at 7pm Saturday for live updates of the Super Rugby Trans-Tasman clash between the Blues and Force