In their second year as a stand-alone organisation, the Blues believe their 2015 season will provide the platform for sustained success in the Super Rugby competition.
The Blues today named a 38-strong team largely based on players from within the region of Northland, North Harbour andAuckland with a balance of proven performers and future potential – both key planks in the organisation’s philosophy.
Twenty-nine players are from within the Bluesregion, one of the highest number of any New Zealand Super Rugby team, with a strong emphasis on building its base with only four newcomers, with the six developing young players in the wider training group all promoted out of the region’s development programme.
Head coach Sir John Kirwan is pleased tohave the bulk of his 2014 squad returning, but also delighted with the qualityof his new signings led by 51-Test halfback Jimmy Cowan, after three years in the English Premiership, and Josh Bekhuis, an enduring 2m tall lock with 81 Super Rugby caps for the Highlanders over six seasons.
The pack is further enhanced with the reappearance of Blues and current Bay of Plenty lock Culum Retallick and former New Zealand Schools captain and All Blacks Under-20 loose forward, Joe Edwards, who both missed the majority of the last Super Rugby season with injury.
The newcomers along with Cowan in the backs is in-form ITM Cup midfielder Hamish Northcott from Manawatu, while formerBlues wider training group inside back Dan Bowden, formerly with the Crusaders and Highlanders, returns to his native Northland after stints in England andJapan.
All Blacks Sevens talent, Ben Lam, the big, fast-stepping winger who was in the winning World Sevens and the Commonwealth Games teams, has his chance at the 15-aside game after an injury-plagued 2014 season.
The cornerstone of the Blues will be the pack that includes six All Blacks – Keven Mealamu, Tony Woodcock, Jerome Kaino, Charlie Faumuina, Patrick Tuipulotu and Steven Luatua who boast 325 Test caps between them.
“I am happy with the balance of the squad between the All Blacks, a group of players who now have experience to understand what Super Rugby demands and some young players that we need to nurture for the future of our team,” Kirwan said.
“As an organisation we are just a year old and have a much more settled front and back office with a discernible plan from which we can build.
“Where possible we’ve looked inside this Blues area for our players especially for our developing young players.
“That said we’ve got some excellent new signings like Bekhuis, Cowan and Northcott.”
The new leader of the Blues will be 54-Test stalwart Kaino, who has returned to compelling international form after two seasons in Japan.
“Jerome brings everything you want in acaptain – leadership on the field, leadership off the field. He is also an X Factor player. As a team we want to be resilient and relentless and Jerome is that sort of player.”
He replaces Luke Braid who will continue to play a key role on and off the field for the Blues.
“Luke is coming off injuries but we have been in close communication and this is something he is fully supportive about. Leadership has been good for Luke and he will stay in that role as one of our leadership group.”
Kirwan is clear about his goals for the team this year, which will be measured by performance on and off the field.
“We will see success measured around more consistency, the players playing for each other, for our sponsors and our fans,and making our people proud of the way they play.
“Everyone talks about where we finish in the competition ladder. But we need to focus on getting those core things right and then the results will look after themselves.
“Obviously we all want to win. We want to create sustained success and to do that all the pillars of the organisation have to be in order and we are getting those in place.”
“Our philosophy as a team in 2015 is to be relentless, uncompromising and hard-working. That’s probably an ideal description for the likes of Kaino, Braid, Cowan and Keven Mealamu and I think all our players want to aspire to that.”
To watch Jerome Kaino’s captain’s address, click here.
The 2015 Blues squad is:
Forwards: Josh Bekhuis (Southland), LukeBraid (Auckland), Joe Edwards (Auckland), Charlie Faumuina (Auckland), BlakeGibson (Auckland), Jerome Kaino (Auckland, captain), Will Lloyd (Auckland), StevenLuatua (Auckland), Keven Mealamu (Auckland), Matt Moulds (Northland), BrendonO’Connor (Hawkes Bay), James Parsons (North Harbour), Greg Pleasants-Tate (NorthHarbour), Sam Prattley (Auckland), Culum Retallick (Bay of Plenty), Peter Saili(Auckland), Angus Ta’avao (Taranaki), Hayden Triggs (North Harbour), PatrickTuipulotu (Auckland), Ofa Tu’ungafasi (Auckland), Tony Woodcock (NorthHarbour).
Backs: Pita Ahki (North Harbour), Dan Bowden (Northland), Jimmy Cowan (Tasman), Jamison Gibson-Park (Taranaki), FrankHalai (Counties Manukau), Bryn Hall (North Harbour), Simon Hickey (Auckland),Ben Lam (Auckland), Tevita Li (North Harbour), George Moala (Auckland), Melani Nanai (Auckland), Hamish Northcott (Manawatu), Charles Piutau (Auckland), Francis Saili (Auckland), Matt Vaega (North Harbour), Lolagi Visinia (Auckland), Ihaia West (Hawkes Bay).
The 2015 True Blues memberships are on sale from today. There are a number of new options available for new and existing members at prices that will provide real savings. Members who sign up by 23December will go into the draw for a trip to Melbourne to watch the Blues take on the Rebels .