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Kirwan asks Blues to lift
June 19, 2013
Blues head coach Sir John Kirwan (left) watches on, Highlanders v Blues, Super Rugby trial match, Queenstown Recreation Ground, New Zealand, February 15, 2013
Blues coach John Kirwan is expecting his All Blacks players to return enthused © Getty Images
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Blues coach John Kirwan understands the equation for making the Super Rugby play-offs is simple if they are to control their own destiny: three wins from three matches.

The Auckland franchise has been there or thereabouts all season, resulting in it sitting in eighth position on 43 points, but only three points behind the fifth-placed Cheetahs and sixth-placed Crusaders.

Kirwan's men will spend a week in South Africa before tackling the Sharks (10th) in Durban before travelling to Bloemfontein for a date with the Cheetahs. They'll need every point they can earn given their last match of the regular season is against the Chiefs at Eden Park in round 20.

Make no mistake; the Blues have been given one clear goal. A greater desperation than their opponents is what is needed if they are to overcome one challenge at a time.

The June international window saw no less than six players picked for the All Blacks squad, including the recalled Rene Ranger and newcomers Charles Piutau, Francis Saili and Steven Luatua.

Kirwan believed the lack of match play for the latter three could have benefits for the Auckland franchise in South Africa, particularly as they'd learned a lot in their time in the All Blacks camp.

"We're expecting them to come in with a lot of energy and a lot of enthusiasm. It's been a really proud moment for them and their families," said Kirwan.

Given his side are fighting for survival in the competition, any positive is welcomed. The added obstacle of playing two matches overseas against desperate South African sides, the Sharks and the Cheetahs, makes for an even bigger litmus test for the Auckland franchise.

When asked for a "magic number" of points that would allow them to qualify for the play-offs, Kirwan responded by saying it depended on how other teams perform, as well as the Blues.

"If we won the next three then I think we'd be in. If we can't win the next three then it depends on what happens around us," Kirwan said. "So if we win three I think we control our own destiny and if we don't then we're waiting for people to lose around you which is not ideal."

Kirwan said the tightness of the competition for the eight teams still in the running made the next segment of the competition a 'dog fight' for the Auckland franchise.

"It's a pretty hard ask but we got ourselves into this and we've got to get ourselves out of it." Poor weather meant the Blues trained at College Rifles' all-weather artificial turf in Remuera on Tuesday to ensure they were able to get a grip on playing under a firm surface.

Five days of rest either side of the 15-38 loss against France meant fitness and preparing for the trip to South Africa was firmly at the top of the Blues' training.

The Blues fly out on Friday, while those who were a part of the All Blacks squad will depart for the Republic by June 25.

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