The Blues will be out to get their dwindling Super Rugby season back on track when they take on the Rebels in Melbourne on Thursday.
The Blues will be out to get their dwindling Super Rugby season back on track when they take on the Rebels at AAMI Park in Melbourne on Thursday.
With one win from five games (their worst start in Super Rugby history), the Blues are bottom of the New Zealand conference table in what has so far been a disappointing campaign after all the pre-season hype.
After losses against the Crusaders, Chiefs, Stormers and Hurricanes, coach Pat Lam – whose contract expires at the end of the season – is now under enormous pressure to produce winning results and avoid a hat-trick of defeats in this bottom-of-the-table clash.
“For us, ultimately, we're going to be judged on results, and that's why we're getting a hammering, and rightly so. We haven't been getting the results,” said Lam.
“We've got to make sure we focus day to day, week to week.
“It's good people are passionate about the game.
“If they weren't, then maybe I wouldn't really look deep down at myself at what I need to do.”
Like the Blues, Thursday's hosts also have just the one victory to their name and both sides share last place on the overall standings with the Lions on 10 points.
After bagging their first win of 2012 against the Force a fortnight ago, the Rebels made the trip to Invercargill where they led the Highlanders 12-7 at one stage in the first half, only to capitulate in defence after the break to concede seven tries and go down 43-12.
They have now lost all five of their offshore games since being admitted to the competition last year. The second-half hammering also showed that while the Rebels made gains in the off-season, their first-year problems remain – they turn over possession too easily and get caught out in defence too often.
The Rebels have looked good in patches so far this season, but will need an 80-minute effort against their trans-Tasman rivals if they are to stand any chance of taking the spoils.
Rebels coach Damien Hill has named arguably his best side this season and the home crowd always give them plenty of support.
But in order for dynamic duo Kurtley Beale and James O'Connor to fire in the back-line, they need a stronger effort from their forwards who were taken apart by the Highlanders last time out.
This is an area the Blues will be targeting, with skipper Keven Mealamu back from injury to lead his side from the front in tomorrow's must-win encounter.
“For us, we've been looking at ways we can bounce back and we've got a chance to do that this week,” said Mealamu.
“After five weeks you get a good look at the trends that are happening in the game. One of the big things is making sure we get our confidence back. Winning is a habit and so is losing.
“You see things in games where players are making mistakes that they don't usually do and that's sometimes because you lose a bit of confidence.
“But I really believe in what we're doing here and everyone's on board, we're all doing this together.”
When these two teams met last year, the Blues won 40-23 in Auckland.
Prediction: The Rebels are always a different kettle of fish at home, however we think the refreshed Blues will prove to be too strong for the hosts in the end. Blues by seven!
Rebels: 15 Kurtley Beale, 14 Lachlan Mitchell, 13 Mitch Inman, 12 James O'Connor, 11 Mark Gerrard, 10 Danny Cipriani, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Gareth Delve (c), 7 Michael Lipman, 6 Jarrod Saffy, 5 Hugh Pyle, 4 Luke Jones, 3 Rodney Blake, 2 Adam Freier, 1 Nic Henderson.
Replacements: 16 Ged Robinson, 17 Laurie Weeks, 18 Alister Campbell, 19 Tim Davidson, 20 Richard Kingi, 21 Julian Huxley, 22 Lloyd Johansson.
Blues: 15 Rudi Wulf, 14 Lachie Munro, 13 Benson Stanley, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Rene Ranger, 10 Gareth Anscombe, 9 Alby Mathewson, 8 Brad Mika, 7 Daniel Braid, 6 Chris Lowrey, 5 Ali Williams, 4 Filo Paulo, 3 Charlie Faumuina, 2 Keven Mealamu, 1 Tony Woodcock.
Replacements: 16 Tom McCartney, 17 Tevita Mailau, 18 Liaki Moli, 19 Dan Pryor, 20 Piri Weepu, 21 Michael Hobbs, 22 Hadleigh Parkes.
Referee: Bryce Lawrence (New Zealand)