Super Rugby Pacific: No bad blood between Dalton Papali'i, Patrick Tuipulotu over Blues captaincy

All Blacks and Blues flanker Dalton Papali'i is vowing to do his utmost to lead his Super Rugby side, in the absence of regular captain Patrick Tuipulotu.

Earlier this year, new Blues coach Vern Cotter put his weight behind 31-year-old Tuipulotu to lead the side in 2024, despite Papali'i having excelled in the role for the past two seasons.

While Tuipulotu led the Blues to the first – and likely only – Super Rugby Trans-Tasman title in 2021, his absence saw Papali'i steer his team to the Super Rugby Pacific final in 2022, and semi-final in 2023, where they were beaten by the Crusaders on both occasions.

However, as the Blues travelled to Japan as part of their pre-season preparations, Tuipulotu suffered a broken jaw in a 43-7 victory over Suntory Sungoliath, and has been left sidelined for up to 10 weeks to recover.

Dalton Papali'i.
Dalton Papali'i. Photo credit: Getty Images

In that time, Papali'i will continue to deputise for his teammate, and resumed leadership duties as the Blues went three from three in pre-season with a 38-24 victory over the Chiefs on Friday.

After making the decision to re-instill Tuipulotu as Blues captain last month, Cotter was adamant the move came with the full backing of Papali'i.

And speaking on Friday after his first game time since last year's Rugby World Cup final defeat to South Africa, Papali'i re-affirmed his support for Tuipulotu as the team's fulltime skipper.

"Me and Patty are best mates," Papali'i said. "I'm so happy for him, he's one of my best friends off the field.

"Knowing that he's stepped into that role, it was his before mine, so I took it as a caretaker.

"[It's like] the All Blacks, you never own the jersey, you just carry your legacy. That was the armband for me.

"Stepping into this role, I'll do the best I can as always. But when Patty comes back, I'm straight behind him, I'll follow him."

Despite falling short over the last two years, the Blues will hope 2024 is the year they can finally end their wait for a genuine Super Rugby title.

While 2021's triumph will live on in fans' memories, the Trans-Tasman trophy came without the Blues having to beat the Crusaders, Hurricanes or Chiefs, thanks to the competition's format.

Scott Robertson's exit from the seven-time reigning champion Crusaders has opened the door for the rest of the competition to finally taste success, with the 2024 Super Rugby season appearing as open as ever.

With three wins from three, the Blues will undoubtedly be optimistic over their chances of success this season, with their title rivals the Crusaders and Chiefs both having lost games in 2024 already.

And with the start of Super Rugby Pacific now just six days away, when the Chiefs host the Crusaders in a repeat of last year's final on Friday, Papali'i is hopeful of ending a wait for genuine silverware that dates back to 2003.

"This is why I play Super Rugby – to win," said Papali'i. "We've come short [for] a few years now, but every year you aim to win this thing.

"From these three games, we can take it into next week with confidence.

"It's going to be a massive test next week against the Drua.

"They can turn it on whenever they want. Last year, when we went over there, it was one of the hardest games I've ever played.

"For the Blues and Vern [Cotter] as well, going into next week, we can take a lot of confidence out of the three performances against quality sides.

"We can take some good things out of that."