Auckland Blues coach Leon MacDonald is confident his young team will bounce back from the disappointment of their Super Rugby final defeat at the hands of the Canterbury Crusaders when the competition returns next year.
The Blues lost 21-7 in the final as the Crusaders snapped a 15-match winning streak by MacDonald’s in-form side at Eden Park on Saturday to claim the title.
But with MacDonald not expecting a major turnover in playing staff next season, he remains upbeat about his team’s future.
“We’ve got a good group of young men and, at times, some of the maturity and leadership they showed this year exceeded their age,” he said.
“If you win it, you want to come back and win it again, and if you lose it, there’s that stone in your shoe that just doesn’t go away. We’ve got a group that can win a competition, I’ve got no doubt about that. It wasn’t for us this year, but we’ll be back next year and we’ll be pretty hungry.”
The Blues are set to be boosted by the return of Patrick Tuipulotu after a season in Japan with Toyota Verblitz while prop Karl Tu’inukuafe, who is due to leave to play in France, is the team’s only confirmed departure.
“I thought tonight was a big learning curve,” said MacDonald of the final, which was played in front of a sold-out Eden Park.
“The whole week was significantly different, dealing with the hype of this game. For some guys, it was a really new experience. If you haven’t played a lot of test rugby, you’ve got to experience it to be able to learn how to deal with it and I think some guys will have some lessons from this week.”
“But overall, you can’t fault the effort and throughout the whole year, I think our guys have been fantastic, working really hard for each other and playing with a lot of pride,” he added.