Super Rugby Trans-Tasman: Blues eye end to title drought

  • 19/06/2021

By Joe Porter (RNZ)

For the first time since 2003, the Blues will contest a Super Rugby final, and players and fans alike are desperate to bring an end to the title drought.

It might not be the full Super Rugby competition but for a team labelled consistent underachievers for the past decade, beating the Highlanders at Eden Park on Saturday night to lift the trans-Tasman trophy would mean just as much.

The Blues beat the Crusaders in 2003 to claim their third and last Super Rugby title, with former All Black No. 8 Xavier Rush as captain.

"To get the result it was an amazing feeling and obviously a lot of joy,"Rush recalls.

"I can remember we partied pretty hard for about three days down the Viaduct... I won't forget some of the memories from that.

"The person who had the wildest time was Geoff Thomas, the gone outdoors fishing guy (host of former TV show Outdoors with Geoff).

"He was a great ambassador for Auckland rugby and he's a top bloke. I've got vivid memories of him, he must of been about 55 at the time, drinking from the beer tap in some bar and I thought, 'Yep, it's going to be a goodnight'.

"We didn't lose the trophy like we lost the Ranfurly Shield though, that was a debacle."

The Blues have gone through a few on field debacles since, with the team failing to reach a final in 18 years.

Hooker Kurt Eklund believes if they win tomorrow night, the celebrations may also mirror the Blues of 2003.

Blues captain Xavier Rush celebrates their Super Rugby title back in 2003.
Blues captain Xavier Rush celebrates their Super Rugby title back in 2003. Photo credit: Photosport

"It would be the cherry on the top wouldn't it?" says Eklund. "It would definitely be a couple of good days celebrating. We can't count our chickens before they hatch, though."

The Blues haven't even reached the playoffs since 2011 and Rush, who now lives and works in Cardiff, says it's heartening to see them back at the top.

"As a proud Aucklander it's great to see the Blues hitting their straps," Rush adds. "I've wondered for a long time why it's taken so long, only because Auckland has so much talent.

"I went back directly after retiring from playing and the amount of talent in the schoolboy rugby in Auckland is huge. It's great to see the team being where I think Auckland rugby should be."

Those sentiments are echoed by Eklund, who was a fan of the team long before he was a player.

"Growing up and watching the Blues and seeing how much we've improved over the last couple years, it's pretty cool to have been a part of," Eklund admits.

"To make the first final the team has had in quite a while is pretty special again."

The crowd should also make for a special occasion, with more than 22,000 tickets already sold for the match.

The Highlanders first-five Mitch Hunt is preparing for a hostile reception at Eden Park.

"It's going to be a pretty incredible atmosphere," says Hunt. "Loud, tons of Blues flags, the workds. It's going to be exciting and there will definitely be a few nerves."

Plenty of Blues fans will also be nervous, but how would they feel if they ended their 18 year wait for another trophy?

"I'd be rapt, it's been ages. A whole lifetime ago," says self described mega fan Adrian, while Patch believes it would be, "The best party in Auckland in a long time."

"They'll win it this year for sure," reckons Darren, but not everyone in Auckland is quite so Blue blooded.

"I should support them as an Aucklander, but I really like the Highlanders, which is awful, that's awful isn't it," says Adi. "I don't even have a connection with the South, which is terrible."

Saturday night's final will bring a close to Super Rugby Trans-Tasman, a tournament born due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with Super Rugby next year set to be a full competition between the five Australian and five NZ teams, as well as two Pacific Island teams in the Suva-based Fijian Drua and South Auckland-based Moana Pasifika.

But what would the players like to see a return of Super Rugby Aoteroa, a solely Kiwi comp? For Eklund the answer is a hard no.

"You get pretty stale playing the same guys week in and week out," says Eklund. 

"It's just nice getting out of the country for a little but, going through duty free and picking up a bit of perfume for the missus, it's always good."

If Ekland and the Blues win on Saturday night, they'll give their fans a gift greater than anything from duty free.

Join us at 7pm, Saturday for live updates of the Super Rugby Trans-Tasman final between the Blues and the Highlanders