The Blues’ “Big Red” Tom Robinson says his side is on high alert ahead of the visit by the Crusaders, their Super Rugby Pacific grand final opponents from last year.
After winning the right to host the final at Eden Park in 2022 due to a run of sparkling performances, the Crusaders brought the Blues back down to earth with a ruthless final display which began with an evisceration of the home side’s lineout.
It not only stopped a source of possession; the Blues’ repeated failures in the set piece affected their confidence to the point where the Crusaders had one hand on their 13th (and sixth consecutive) title by halftime.
Blues captain Dalton Papali’i still hasn’t got over it.
And following a mixed lineout bag in their victory over the Hurricanes in Wellington last weekend (the Blues were 13/17 on their own throw), they are very much expecting a wounded Crusaders to attack this area again on Saturday night.
“We have put a lot of emphasis on it this week and already today I thought we had our best session of the year which is pretty cool in terms of it only being a Tuesday,” Robinson told 1News.
“We know how important it is this week. You have to give them credit – they are probably the best defensive lineout in the competition. We’ve got a plan, though, and we back ourselves.
“[Sam] Whitelock and Scott Barrett are really good at reading – there’s a lot of experience there. Once they get a couple of steals it obviously puts pressure on teams and they execute and capitalise. They are world class locks.”
Which brings us to the Blues’ locks this week. With All Black Patrick Tuipulotu limping off the Sky Stadium pitch after scoring his first-half try against the Hurricanes, it’s highly likely that Robinson will find himself in the second row when the team is announced on Thursday.
Tuipulotu’s probable absence will rob the Blues of some much-needed heft in the set piece against a Crusaders team determined to right a few wrongs after their upset defeat to the Fijian Drua at the weekend took their opening record to 1-2.
“Obviously, it’s a pretty brutal place to go,” Robinson says of the literal and metaphorical heat of Lautoka’s Churchill Park. “They won’t want to use that as an excuse. They’re going to bounce back, there’s no doubt about it. They’ll be firing this weekend.
“It’s not often the Crusaders go back to back losses. That’s our plan to make it happen but they’ll be giving everything they can to prevent it.”
The Blues followed their big opening round victory over the Highlanders in Dunedin with a big miss against the Brumbies in Melbourne, and it’s here that the Crusaders may find both a little inspiration and confidence.
Leon MacDonald’s men had no answer to the Brumbies’ driving maul, as Robinson admitted, and the Crusaders are traditionally among the best in the competition at it.
“We were disappointing against the Brumbies,” Robinson said. “We obviously kept the Canes out but the Crusaders are a different beast and we have to be better than we were in the weekend – a lot better.”
Robinson, an uncapped 28-year-old hampered by injuries over the years, says he is still finding his feet this season but his try against the Brumbies when he broke away and ran around fullback Tom Wright for a stunning try may have offered another reminder to the All Blacks selectors that when he’s hot he can be very hot indeed.
In this year of all years, though, Robinson said he wasn’t thinking too far beyond the Blues.
“I don’t really get caught up in that – if it happens, it happens,” he said of All Blacks (and World Cup) selection.
“As long as I do my best for this team that’s all that really matters.”