The Blues have hit back after being labelled a ‘South African pack’ by the Highlanders earlier this week.
The Auckland-based outfit kicked off their 2021 Super Rugby Aotearoa campaign by pumping the Hurricanes in Wellington and, after a bye, they’re set to host the Highlanders at (they hope) a full Eden Park with the city having been downgraded to level 1 restrictions.
Captain Patrick Tuipulotu and loose forwards Hoskins Sotutu and Akira Ioane were drivers in pulverising the Hurricanes and they’ve been reinforced this week by the selection of fellow All Blacks Ofa Tu’ungafasi and Karl Tu’inukuafe to start in the front row.
Highlanders assistant coach Clarke Dermody had this to say about it: ‘It’s like preparing for a South African team without the South Africans in the comp,’ he told Stuff.co.nz. ‘They are a massive, massive pack. There’s also a lot of kicking, so I guess our challenge is to match them up front and then not get drawn in to that game. They want to be walking from set piece to set piece, so we’ll try to speed the game up.’
One might think that being compared to players from the current world champions would be taken as a compliment, but not so in New Zealand.
‘We are big,’ said Blues forwards coach Tom Coventry. ‘But I don’t think we’re as immobile as what was implied.
‘We are a big pack, I get the implication, but I’d like to think we’re more than just a big heavy pack that does one thing well.’
Yet, for those that missed the 2019 Rugby World Cup, England’s big pack beat the All Blacks in the semi-final before an even bigger Springbok pack demolished England in the final.
Ironically, Tuipulotu is counting on the Blues’ physicality to dominate the Highlanders on Sunday. ‘They can call it whatever they want,’ he said. ‘Rugby is rugby. We know our strengths and they know theirs. What I’m looking forward to is a big physical forward pack and that battle up front.
‘I know our backs are looking forward to scoring some nice tries out wide. For us it starts up front.’