Blues skipper Patrick Tuipulotu: 'We can't be content — we have to get even better'

Blues skipper Patrick Tuipulotu is understandably pooped after an epic rugby year that started in sweltering early-January and winds up in the middle of December in border isolation at a luxury Auckland hotel.

For Tuipulotu, more than most, it’s been a major mission, given the uncertainty, the changing goalposts and the personal investment he had in the great Blues Super Rugby turnaround which in 2020 finally stopped being an empty promise and morphed into a glorious overdue reality.

And in the end it probably took a toll on his performance for the All Blacks in Australia as the experienced lock hit the metaphorical wall over the last couple of weeks of the Tri-Nations. Not that anyone was pointing any fingers at the big Aucklander for that either – he had more than earned a pass for the mahi put in over an unprecedented rugby year.

Tuipulotu took this Blues tale of redemption decidedly personally as skipper and third longest-serving member of Leon MacDonald’s squad for 2020. Only James Parsons (2012 debut) and Ofa Tu’ungafasi (2013) have been around longer than this workhorse lock who first appeared for the franchise in 2014 and has been desperate ever since to lead the revival.

Nobody tried harder, or played with more purpose and intent than Tuipulotu in 2020 as he emptied the tank on the field every week. He was simply inspirational as the Blues finally shed their basement tag to emerge, for the first time in nearly a decade, as genuine title contenders.

They won five of their first seven games before Covid turned the world on its head, then five of seven in Aotearoa to finish runnersup behind the Crusaders. They also finally rallied their long-suffering public with Eden Park bulging at the seams post-lockout with fans overjoyed to be out and about again with a winning rugby team to get behind.

But as Tuipulotu puts his feet up for a fortnight of pre-Christmas isolation, he is the first to admit that mindsets around the franchise have to be reset on the back of what was achieved this year.

“That’s probably a good conversation for me and Rangi (MacDonald) to have as we move into ‘21,” he said with a smile. “It’s about working even harder and being smarter about what we come up with. We can’t hope we’ve shown all our cards this year – we have to come up with different ways to play our game. We can’t be predictable.

“The Blues love to play with flair. We look forward to doing the same in ’21 but being more innovative in the way we play.”

The one thing this Blues squad has now is depth, across the board. They have four All Blacks props, a bulging loose forward contingent and quality wings aplenty. MacDonald has retained his core starting group but brought in seven new faces who tick boxes for both present and future.

“That’s exciting,” added Tuipulotu. “Most of this group have now been through the lows of what past Blues teams have been through, and are now real keen on getting this team going forward. That’s a big part of trying to get some success here.”

With that quartet of test props, three quality hookers, solid second-row backup and a loose contingent boasting three current All Blacks as well as Blake Gibson, Dillon Hunt and Tom Robinson, the skipper was asked if he’d played in a stronger Blues pack.