Four New Zealand sides occupy playoff spots just over a third of the way into the Super Rugby season.
The odd one out, the Blues, have played them all so far, for one win, when they squeezed past the defending champion Highlanders on the opening night.
As they prepare to face the Sharks on Saturday night in Auckland, the Blues don’t meet New Zealand opposition again until the last weekend in May, when they host the Crusaders.
“We always back ourselves whoever we play against, but we’ll just try to park that last block,” skipper Jerome Kaino said.
“We’ve had some close games. We’ve looked back and learnt from the losses and, hopefully, we can improve and get some wins.”
The close losses include a bonus-point defeat to competition leaders the Chiefs last weekend, when Kaino returned earlier than expected from a shoulder injury.
The All Blacks’ loose forward and two-time World Cup winner said the shoulder still limited his contact work in training, but he expected no problems come match time.
The Sharks, who are beginning a three-match tour of New Zealand, are also outside the playoff spots in the South African group.
Having started with three wins, they had to settle for a 16-16 draw with the Bulls when five-eighth Joe Pietersen missed a simple penalty after the siren and then lost at home to the Crusaders and the Lions.
Before kickoff at Eden Park, there will be a moment’s silence in memory of former Blues lock and father of two Kurtis Haiu, who died this week of cancer.
Haiu, who was 31, played 53 matches for the Blues from 2006-11 before being forced to retire.
“He was hugely talented and it’s just really sad to hear the news,” Kaino said.
“He was always a huge motivating factor for us throughout his battle. It’s still quite fresh for us at the moment and we’re feeling for his family and his girls.”