, formerly the Auckland Blues
, are a professional New Zealand rugby union
franchise based in Auckland, New Zealand
which represents the Northland
, North Harbour
unions. They compete in the Super 14
(formerly Super 12) competition, which they have won three times - in 1996, 1997, and 2003. The Blues' main home ground is Eden Park
Initial composition of the Blues
When the New Zealand Rugby Football Union
(NZRFU) was initially deciding the team compositions for the Super 12 in 1995, it was decided that to have the Blues franchise encompass the North Harbour, Counties-Manukau
, Northland and Auckland provincial rugby unions would be unfair. This was due to the overwhelming number of All Blacks
(players representing New Zealand) who came from North Harbour, Counties-Manukau and Auckland at the time. Hence, if the Blues were to consist of these unions, they would be fielding a virtual All Blacks team.
This led to North Harbour and Northland being represented by the nearest other team, the Chiefs (at the time named the Waikato Chiefs). As a result, the Blues did not represent all of Auckland, as North Harbour represents the northern part of the Auckland region. However, the Blues represented Thames Valley as part of their franchise, a region considerably closer to Hamilton than Auckland.
By the end of the 1990s the number of All Blacks from these unions had decreased. This led the Blues and the Chiefs to arrange a swap, where the Chiefs would represent Thames Valley and Counties Manukau in exchange for the Blues representing Northland and North Harbour. Although in the seasons leading up to the trade North Harbour and Northland had outperformed Counties Manukau
and Thames Valley
in provincial rugby (see National Provincial Championship
), it enabled both franchises to represent unions closer geographically. Despite this, the Blues lost the area colloquially referred to as South Auckland
, not including Mangere, Otahuhu, Papatoetoe and East Tamaki. Thus, the Blues traded South Auckland for North Auckland, and still do not represent the entire Auckland region
. In 2000 all of New Zealand's Super 12 franchises dropped the regional identifiers from their official names.
After the NPC was discontinued in 2006 and two new domestic competitions - the professional Air New Zealand Cup and nominally amateur Heartland Championship - were launched, the Blues became the only New Zealand Super Rugby side whose constituent unions were all Air New Zealand Cup sides.
The Blues won the inaugural Super 12 competition in 1996, winning the final at Eden Park 45-21 against Natal
. They followed this up by winning the competition again in 1997, this time without losing a game (although they drew one). Eden Park hosted it's third straight Super 12 final in 1998, this time the Blues played host to the Crusaders
(named Canterbury Crusaders
at the time). The 1998 final ended in a Crusaders victory 20-13, preventing the Blues gaining a hat-trick of titles.
The Blues have only achieved title success once since 1997, defeating the Crusaders in the 2003 final 21-17. Although the team has consistently fielded All Blacks, it has struggled to perform well, having failed to make the semi-finals since 2003. With the expanded competition in 2006 (renamed the Super 14) the Blues were predicted to make the semi-finals and to be a strong title contenders. However they proved disappointing and finished eighth.
The Blues are the only team in Super rugby that can currently boast a positive win-loss ratio against 7-time champions the Crusaders, which currently stands at 8-6.
2006 draft fiasco
The Blues were forced by the NZRFU to include North Harbour
captain Rua Tipoki
in their squad of 24 players who are 'protected' from the draft. This system has worked in favour of the ARFU in the past e.g. Steve Devine being chosen as an All Black and therefore forced to delete Mark Robinson from the squad due to the fiscal error of pre-signing the journey-man, then junior David Gibson. Tipoki was originally to be excluded from the draft due to personal circumstances
in order to stay in Auckland, Andrew Mehrtens
has in the past done this with the Crusaders
The NZRFU however forced coach David Nucifora to pick Tipoki in his 24 man squad and hence drop another player. It is believed the NZRFU was in favour of dropping players such as Isa Nacewa or Viliame Waqaseduadua who are ineligible to play for the All Blacks. Instead, Nucifora excluded All Black Isaia Toeava, who subsequently played for the Hurricanes in 2006.
Players and coaches of note
The squad for the 2008 season: