Wary ... Blues coach Pat Lam. Photo: Getty Images
It may only be a Super Rugby warmup but the Blues are expecting a motivated Hurricanes team to turn up the heat in Whangarei on Saturday.
While the Blues have retained the core of the team that reached the semifinals of last year's championship the Hurricanes head north with a new-look squad assembled from the ashes of Mark Hammett's disappointing first year in charge that ended in a mass exodus of top talent.
Therein lies the danger, according to Blues coach Pat Lam. Like most he's heard the doomsday predictions for the young Canes outfit as they start a major rebuilding process.
"That will be used as a positive and motivation for all of them," Lam warned.
"I know if I was in that [Hurricanes] team and hearing everything that's been said of them, it just brings a bit of resolve. It's a new beginning for them. There is a lot of quality, there may not be experience with what they have lost but there is certainly a chance for them to come together as a team."
This is only a preseason fixture and the emphasis will be on performance rather than the result for both teams.
Lam said there was a determination to bring more aggression to their defence.
"Everyone is hanging for a hitout after all the training. It's about systems and combinations.
"The real crunch comes on February 24 when we open our season at home against the Crusaders.
"So we will give everyone a run on Saturday and that will give us something to build on," Lam said, expecting the same from the Hurricanes as the coaching staff shuffle their options.
But the Blues won't be adding to the Hurricanes' motivation by playing Piri Weepu this weekend.
He is in a group of World Cup-winning All Blacks that Lam still wants to get more out of in terms of fitness before he puts them in a game situation. They are, he notes, five weeks behind their Super Rugby colleagues after their deserved break after last year's glory.
And Lam confirmed that another former Hurricanes star, second-five Ma'a Nonu, won't make his debut for the Blues until the third round of the actual championship following his stint of Japanese club rugby.
That will bring him into line for the Blues' demanding trip to South Africa to play the Bulls and Stormers.
Fairfax NZ News