The top team can easily go to the bottom
The leaders of the New Zealand conference, the Blues, travel to Brisbane to clash with one of the in form side of the tournament this weekend - the Reds.
Yes, the Blues are leaders of the New Zealand conference.
It’s a statement even the most ardent Blues fan would have struggled to contemplate uttering prior to the season kicking off, and yet 10 rounds into the competition there they are.
Incoming coach John Kirwan promised it would be a rollercoaster when he named a young and inexperienced team back in December, and so far he’s been proven right as the team and their fans have been taken on one exhilarating ride.
However, Kirwan is not getting carried away. Like every rollercoaster there are peaks and troughs, and he said it was important to stay focussed and keep working hard.
"I’m really happy with where we are but we’re just half way through and we need to make sure that we keep working hard," he said.
"The next six weeks is defining for everyone.
"The bottom team can get to the top and the top team can go to the bottom so we’re not getting carried away, we’ve got to keep working hard and we’ve got a huge test on Friday night," Kirwin added.
Indeed Friday’s fixture against the Reds in Brisbane will be the biggest challenge the Blues have faced this season.
The 2011 champions are in fine form, toppling last year’s champs the Chiefs a fortnight ago before grinding out a 19-all draw with the table topping Brumbies last week.
"They’re the best side in the competition," Kirwan said.
"I thought it was a really tense, physical battle the other night against the Brumbies so we need to be ready for that.
"It’s going to be a battle up front firstly because they’re really aggressive at the ruck and then we need to try and contain two world class backline players in Will Genia and Quade Cooper," the coach mentioned.
Kirwan believed the impressive form the Australian teams are currently showing could be attributed to the looming Lions tour.
The Aussies have scored seven victories over New Zealand teams this season, with the Hurricanes the only team to manage a win against them.
"It’s a bit like the World Cup isn’t it? Everyone has a bit of an edge and wants to be selected. I know when I was playing, to play the Lions was a highlight," Kirwan said.
"I just wish Robbie Deans hadn’t left Quade [Cooper] out of that squad, since then he’s been playing the house down."
Captain Ali Williams missed training yesterday with an ongoing knee issue but will be fine to take on the Reds, while Kirwan intimated that All Black veteran Keven Mealamu would continue to make his impact felt off the bench on Friday night.
"Keven [Mealamu] will probably play off the bench. Kevvie’s going well and so is JP [James Parsons] so we’ve got a really nice bit of competition there.
"We know what Kevvie can bring us but JP has also been playing the house down so off the bench for Kevvie and see what happens
The Blues head to Brisbane on Thursday to play the Reds on Friday evening at Suncorp Stadium.