With the return of rugby union, it feels like all is starting to become right with the world once more.
The teams over the weekend playing some great footy and the crowds coming out in force and full voice was exactly what we needed in the light of some of the recent events.
And how good is an afternoon game and for only $20?
Hopefully this energy and enthusiasm is carried through this abbreviated season and makes some great memories for a year sorely lacking in them at the moment.
If the Blues can continue in the same vein have they have restarted, then at least everyone north of the Bombay Hills will have something to be happy about.
Although, I would argue that the newly found emergent strength of the Blues should be cause for joy across New Zealand.
The Blues in recent history have shown they have the talent and the ability but lacked something in their cohesion, and their ability to actually deliver the results that – on paper – seem perfectly reasonable to expect.
In the first part of this season, they showed that perhaps they had turned that corner, and were delivering on-field results that were putting smiles on the faces of long-suffering fans.
After this first hit-out against the Hurricanes in the new Super Rugby Aotearoa it appears they are still moving forward with their positive momentum. There were a number of things to like about their performance in this opening round, and one or two things to work on moving forward.
Firstly, the positives. With the rebirth of the Blues we are also seeing the rebirth of Rieko Ioane.
The transition from the wing to the outside centre position has seen him develop his game and potentially put him back into All Blacks contention, after falling out of favour.
Having a mentor like Tana Umaga, who also transitioned from a winger into one of the world’s leading centres, has surely helped. This weekend we saw Ioane getting involved every chance he could get, creating space for his outside men, charging in to tackles and keeping his workload high.
Previously he might have been accused of going missing in some games on the wing, but his contribution was easy to see this time around.
This also highlights the depth of knowledge and experience the Blues have managed to gather. From moving to the shot of Leon MacDonald, a Canterbury great from way back, to a shot of the water boys, Umaga and one Daniel Carter, it is easy to see the depth of rugby IQ the squad has on hand to help shape this young team.
Along with the old boys helping out, they can also draw on Beauden Barrett for on-field leadership. He showed his importance on the field in supporting the young Otere Black, and helping structure the game and close it out once they got their noses in front.
This has been an aspect of the Blues that was missing in recent years. They had an inexplicable way of failing to close games out that they should have won.
Barrett seemed to have the freedom to roam and inject himself where he wanted to, which is something he lacks when playing at ten. Having him settle into a 15 position will help him move in the All Blacks’ 15 position, which is his best position with Riche Mo’unga in ten.
This is not good news for Beauden’s brother Jordie and also raises the question of where Damian McKenzie, who also had a good hit-out over the weekend, fits into the picture.
This also solves the problem of Beauden’s kicking, which in the past has been questioned. Black was more than capable of stepping up, and slotted all his shots.
Beauden meanwhile, perhaps inspired by the drop goals in the earlier game, had a less than successful crack at his own droppie.
It should be noted it was great to see New Zealand sides actually understanding drop goals exist and that attempting them does not forfeit the game immediately.
A great lighthearted moment was watching Dane Coles’ eyes light up when he saw Barrett coming across in cover for Coles’ try. The shear joy Coles must have had colliding with Barrett and still flying over for a great winger’s try was surely felt by the whole team as then came in and celebrated with Barrett, hugging him and patting him on the head. To his credit, Barrett took it in his stride and ended up having the last laugh.
Along with all the positives, there are a couple of things to improve on for all teams, not just the Blues. Law interpretations have been updated and we saw across both games a slew of penalties for breakdown and offside infringements.
There needs to be an immediate adjustment from all players in how to approach the breakdown and position themselves in the defensive line. I have no problem with the penalties and it is up to the players to adjust.
Even with the high penalty counts, the games were still great to watch and the contest for the ball feels a lot more real than previously.
I hope these interpretations are ruled the same way across all the different competitions starting back up and they are consistent, as it will be extremely detrimental if the players make the required adjustments, then travel north (eventually) and have to adjust to a completely different breakdown interpretation.
Lastly, of all the things COVID-19 has to answer for, can we please add the Blues’ hair styles and excessive facial hair to the list. The facial hair is fine. It’s nothing we do not see from any touring side. But the players, particularly the Blues, must have been more than bored to come back with the assortment of horrors we saw on the field.
From bright white, peroxided mullets and pink crew cuts, it feels like the main thing Barrett really needs to do to fit in and integrate into the team is get some foils and blonde highlights during the week before the next game.
All in all, it was a great start to the new season and the Blues have certainly laid down a marker with a dominant win, showing enterprise and imagination, but also a newfound conviction and ruthless ability to move the game beyond reach of the opposition.
The coolness they showed in moving from attacking line-outs and tries to secure the lead, to penalty kicks to extend it further, showed a maturity and game smarts they previously lacked.
Although I will never be a true Blues supporter, being a Canterbury boy since birth, I have always had a soft spot for the Blues and am looking forward to seeing what they can do moving forward.