The Blues are quietly confident they have the pack to put pressure on their Crusaders counterparts, a traditional area of strength for the red and blacks, at Eden Park tonight.
Certainly they appear to have a scrum that could cause Scott Robertson’s side, who are now without All Blacks such as Sam Whitelock, Owen Franks, Kieran Read and Matt Todd, a few issues.
The performances of the Blues’ set piece against the Chiefs and Waratahs suggests that is the case.
In what must be described as a minor revolution at the franchise, the hard-nosed attitudes of forwards coach Tom Coventry and scrum coach Ben Afeaki, along with the power of All Blacks Ofa Tuungafasi and Karl Tu’inukuafe, plus Sione Mafileo and Alex Hodgman before his knee injury, have combined to make the scrum a real weapon for the Blues.
They should have few issues using their scrum as a platform to attack off their own ball and, after hurting the Waratahs in this area last weekend, they may seek to unsettle a side who were dominated by the Chiefs pack in the second half of their loss in Hamilton.
In the first half of their come-from-behind win at Eden Park in round one, the Chiefs’ scrum was consistently stuck in reverse.
“They’ve still got plenty of All Blacks and we’ve still got plenty of respect for that pack,” hooker James Parsons, starting for the first time this season following a back injury, said.
“Codie Taylor is pretty exceptional and you’ve got Scott Barrett there and some young fellas putting their hands up like Tom Christie who is performing well.
“They’ve got plenty of quality across the board… we know they love coming up to Eden Park and stamping their mark.”
And yet, the Blues, with skipper Patrick Tuipulotu in the second row, will have a few marks to stamp too.
“There have been some promising signs,” agreed Coventry.
“Over the last couple of games we’ve been pretty strong at scrum time, that’s been going pretty well. We’ve been able to use that as a platform to attack off.
“We need to be tidier with our lineout and make sure that’s as accurate as the Crusaders’ lineout is, which they pride themselves on.”
The Blues lost four lineouts in their lost to the Chiefs and only one to the Waratahs and the Crusaders will likely subject them to a stern examination here – all the more reason for Parsons to come in.
Tuungafasi joins him in the No 3 jersey after some good early-season form from Mafileo.
“Ofa was mighty when he came on last weekend and offered what Ofa does; he’s pretty physical around the field and his mobility was good,” Coventry said.
“He’s scrummaging well and he’s replaced Sione who is doing a good job there as well.
“JP with his experience and knowledge of these games – it’s a no brainer for me; get him involved in those opening stages which will be pretty fierce I’d imagine.
“They’ve shown for a while now that when they’re under the pump they go to their scrum.
“They go to their lineout and try to pick penalties off it.
“They try to find faults in your concentration levels so we need to be right up there throughout the match.
“It would be nice to turn the tables a little bit, wouldn’t it – but we’ll just be looking for parity and see what happens in that battle.”