Rugby: New face of the Blues

By Wynne Gray


16 different players with Auckland captain Daniel Braid the main omission.


Turnover is part of the new rugby jargon and the Blues took it to a new level with their latest Super rugby squad.


New coach John Kirwan announced a squad with 16 different players from those used during this year's tormented campaign.


It is a total of 20 new faces if you include Charles Piutau, Francis Saili, Steven Luatua and James Parsons who only got late runs when injury bit further into the group.


Nine original picks have left for overseas deals, six have been overlooked while another eight players pulled in as injury cover have been ignored.


Add in All Blacks Ma'a Nonu and Tony Woodcock who have switched to the Highlanders and Gareth Anscombe who is at the Chiefs, and the fallout has been massive.


Auckland captain Daniel Braid is the main omission, stranded on 99 Super rugby caps from his Blues and Reds work with an uncertain rugby future.


He may yet be included though in the five wider training group of players attached to each squad.


When the squad eventually gathers for the 2013 season, only 12 who began this year as full members will return in Blues kit.


The latest inductees were revealed at yesterday's Eden Park launch which carried a touch of evangelical theatre from Kirwan.


He addressed about 750 members, sponsors and rugby followers about his strategies for his opening Super rugby gambit.


"We had specific criteria that players had to meet," Kirwan said.


"About their existing skill set - what they bring to us now as well as how we can develop it, the character of each player and their desire to be part of this franchise and finally the sum of all parts - how we see this team gelling together as well as pushing each other to exceed expectations."


Former Blues stars like Michael Jones, Craig Innes and Joeli Vidiri were there to meet the new Blues players and offer advice.


Lock Anthony Boric, who is recovering from neck surgery, encouraged the widespread support and offered hope the squad would repay some of the ideas and judgment offered to the group by the selectors.


Most players will be familiar to those who have followed the provincial championships although Tim Perry might struggle for recognition.


He is a 24-year-old prop with Tasman who has benefited after the Blues gambled in putting Pauliasi Manu into the unprotected players group where he was picked off by the Melbourne Rebels.


New players picked from outside the Blues boundaries are Quentin MacDonald, Culum Retallick, Ronald Raaymakers, Kane Barrett, Brendon O'Connor, Jamison Gibson-Park, Chris Noakes, Baden Kerr, Jackson Willison, Waisake Naholo, Frank Halai, and Martin McKenzie.


The defending champion Chiefs have emulated the Blues with an 18 forwards, 14 backs selection split and interesting pickups like former All Black lock Ross Filipo, Anscombe, and Patrick Osborne on the wing.


Highlanders coach Jamie Joseph has chosen 16 forwards and 15 backs where Colin Slade will hope to resume after his terrible run of leg injuries and halfback Fumiaki Tanaka becomes Japan's first player in the series.


The Crusaders have taken a different tack as coach Todd Blackadder has picked 19 forwards with Richie McCaw included even though he will not return to action until his sabbatical ends after the All Blacks June internationals.

- THE AUCKLANDER

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