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Super Rugby preview
Guess that's why they're called Blues
Greg Growden and ESPN Staff
February 14, 2013
Blues winger Rene Ranger shrugs out of a tackle, Bulls v Blues, Super Rugby, Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria, South Africa, March 10, 2012
Rene Ranger has scored 19 tries in 45 Super Rugby matches. © Getty Images
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Blues fans might have thought the 2012 season resembled more a soap opera than a Super Rugby campaign, but Greg Growden says they haven't seen anything yet.

Last season: 12th overall, fifth in New Zealand conference; The Blues won just four matches in 2012, with big-name signings such as Piri Weepu and Ma'a Nonu making limited impact. But the Blues were also riven by injuries, the likes of Jerome Kaino, Rudi Wulf, Isaia Toeava often absent. The post-season clearout suggests injuries were but the most visible issue in Auckland.

Key man: Rene Ranger has scored 19 tries in 45 Super Rugby matches, and two tries, 34 tackle busts and nine linebreaks in 2012 was good reward in a disappointing team. John Kirwan, the Blues coach, is keen to see him become "a key focal point in our backline ... he has to cement our backline" most likely closer to the action in the centres as a direct replacement for departed Ma'a Nonu.

Rising star: Baden Kerr is just one of 10 players from ITM Cup Championship winners Counties Manukau stepping up to Super Rugby, but the five-eighth was integral to the Steelers' success in 2012 and John Kirwan seems likely to name him as starting playmaker having let Gareth Anscombe go to the Chiefs despite scoring 102 points in 2012.

Season preview: The three-time champions will hope to have a little more luck with injuries this season, but John Kirwan now has a relatively inexperienced post-cleanout squad to handle. Much will depend on Kirwan's ability to coach at Super Rugby level, assuming the reins with no such experience having previously coached Japan's Cherry Blossoms and Italy.

Greg Growden's verdict: The 2012 Blues saga was a bit like watching a series of Coronation Street, with endless dramas, setbacks and embarrassments. They were a mess, and it was no shock that Pat Lam, under siege as coach from virtually the opening kick-off, was pushed out the exit door. John Kirwan has taken over, and has reasonable credentials, but he will still find it a bewildering chore getting the best out of a lacklustre squad. The Blues have lost countless senior players, and they will be relying on adrenalin as they have 16 new players, many of whom are new to Super Rugby. It looks like another blundering season for the Blues.

Tip: Fifth in New Zealand conference. Finish: 12th overall.

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