Rugby-Blues' Super Rugby celebrations tempered by memories of 2022 defeat

  • Rugby
  • Saturday, 15 Jun 2024

(Reuters) -Auckland Blues' celebrations at reaching next week's Super Rugby Pacific final were muted as Vern Cotter's side maintained their focus on winning the title, with memories of losing the final two years ago fresh in their minds.

The Blues' 34-20 win over the ACT Brumbies on Friday ended Australian involvement in the competition and moved the New Zealanders into the decider for the second time in three seasons.

The Eden Park-based outfit lost to the Canterbury Crusaders in their most recent appearance in the final in 2022 and Dalton Papali'i believes that result has tempered any sense of complacency within the Blues camp.

"I remember that year pretty clearly," Papali'i said of the campaign that ended with a 21-7 defeat to the Crusaders. "We lost our first game and then we went unbeaten 15 games to the final.

"We might have had that in the back of our mind that it was just going to happen. We've been reminded twice this year, once against the (Hurricanes) and Crusaders, that we can't leave anything unchecked.

"We can celebrate a little making it to a final because we all know it's a tough season. Making a final takes a lot of heart but we've got one more job to do. We've been in this position and we've failed so we know what's on the line."

The Blues have not won a fully fledged Super Rugby title since 2003, with their victory in 2021 coming in the makeshift Super Rugby Trans-Tasman series that emerged as a result of the competition's restructuring due to the pandemic.

After losing in the 2022 final to the Crusaders, the Blues were thrashed by the same opponent in last year's semi-finals.

With his side due to face either the Wellington Hurricanes or the Waikato Chiefs in next week's decider, Cotter knows a stern challenge awaits.

"It's like choosing between the plague and cholera," he said when asked which side he would prefer to face in the final. "It will be the team that wins and we'll prepare for them.

"I'm really happy this group gets to go to a final and gets a crack at it. We'll enjoy this moment but know the responsibility comes as soon as we're in on Monday."

(Reporting by Michael Church; Editing by Sam Holmes)

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