Blues gone begging: A look at what could have been
SPOTLIGHT: Tana Umaga’s Blues are often criticised for their failures when it comes to player identification and retention.
Despite Auckland’s status as a rugby talent hotbed, featuring one of the country’s leading schoolboy competitions and a historically strong provincial setup, there has been continued failure to turn that talent into Super Rugby success.
What makes the Blues’ failure even more painful is the success players from the region have found elsewhere. 2018’s shining example has been overnight celebrity Ben Lam.
26-year-old Lam was educated at Auckland’s St. Peter’s College, played provincial rugby for Auckland and made six appearances for the Blues over three seasons (2012, 2015-2016). But it wasn’t until he left Auckland that he started to put it all together on the field.
Unfortunately, Lam isn’t the only talent the Blues have either discarded or overlooked.
We have put together a hypothetical starting fifteen of ‘Blues gone begging’. To qualify, the player must be currently playing for a New Zealand Super Rugby side and have been either born or educated in Auckland, played rugby for a Blues province, or played for the Blues previously.
Here’s the team:
15. Solomon Alaimalo
After completing high school in Christchurch, 22-year-old Alaimalo shifted to Northland to play provincially and has since set Super Rugby alight with his play for the Chiefs in 2018.
He has scored five tries this season and averages 104 run metres a game, operating from the wing or at fullback.
Alaimalo’s Auckland-bred Chiefs teammate Shaun Stevenson would also be a quality pick here.
13. Seta Tamanivalu
Three-time All Black Seta Tamanivalu was introduced to New Zealand rugby after being awarded a scholarship to schoolboy powerhouse Saint Kentigern College as a teenager.
Former All Blacks and Highlanders midfielder Malakai Fekitoa would be a shoo-in for this list if he wasn’t playing for Toulon. The 25-year-old shifted from Tonga to Wesley College in high school and made one appearance for the Blues in 2013 and played his provincial rugby with Auckland.
12. Jack Goodhue
Northland midfielder and now one-time All Black Jack Goodhue was schooled at Auckland’s Mount Albert Grammar School alongside twin brother and Blues lock Josh.
10. Mitch Hunt
Now plying his trade with the Crusaders, Mitch Hunt – most famous for his last gasp drop goal against the Highlanders in 2017 – has represented Auckland at the provincial level and New Zealand at the Under-20 level.
He played for the Blues development side but could never crack the first team, prompting a move to his hometown Tasman Mako and eventually the Crusaders.
9. Bryn Hall
Hall made 32 appearances for the Blues from 2013-2016 and played in all 15 of their matches in 2016.
He then moved south to the Crusaders, where he currently splits time with Mitchell Drummond and won a Super Rugby title last season.
8. Kieran Read
The All Blacks captain hails from Papakura, in the south of Auckland.
Read was educated at Rosehill College after a one-year stint with Saint Kentigern and has since become one of world rugby’s most decorated players, winning two World Cups and playing 109 tests.
Otahuhu native and current Crusaders No. 8 (while Read is out with injury) Jordan Taufua could also easily slot in here.
7. Dillon Hunt
Westlake Boys’ product Dillon Hunt came out of nowhere to earn a shock end-of-year All Blacks call-up in 2017.
The 23-year-old worked his way up from second tier Otago club rugby to the world stage after moving south to study.
6. Vaea Fifita
Born and raised in Tonga, All Blacks lock/loose forward Vaea Fifita went to Auckland’s Tamaki College after being spotted on a rugby tour to New Zealand.
5. Michael Fatialofa
Fatialofa played his provincial rugby with Southland and Auckland after being part of Mount Albert Grammar’s national championship winning side in 2010.
After two seasons in the NRL, Lousi made the code-switch to union and linked up with the Waratahs, before moving back to New Zealand and becoming a regular starter for the Hurricanes.
3. Angus Ta’avao
Ta’avao is another player that played for the Blues but didn’t reach his potential until he moved elsewhere.
2. Andrew Makalio
Makalio was an Auckland club rugby star, hoisting the Gallaher Shield in 2015 after a man of the match performance, but couldn’t get a look-in at the provincial side.
1. Chris Eves
Maori All Black Chris Eves has become a mainstay of the Hurricanes front row, chalking up over 50 appearances for the side.
After playing his high school rugby at Massey, the prop played sparingly for North Harbour and failed to kick on at the provincial level.