Patrick McKendry is a rugby and boxing writer for the Herald.

Rugby: West shapes as key to Blues' playoff hopes

First-five appears set to start the remaining three matches after the June break.

Recalled All Black loose forward Jerome Kaino made every post a winner in his bustling display for the Blues against the Hurricanes at Eden Park. Photo / Getty Images
Recalled All Black loose forward Jerome Kaino made every post a winner in his bustling display for the Blues against the Hurricanes at Eden Park. Photo / Getty Images

Ihaia West's performance in the Blues' big victory over the Hurricanes on Saturday night proved he is not only at home at this level, but that he has the potential to be a major factor in the future of the franchise.

He admitted to nerves as he ran out at Eden Park, and he missed a couple of kicks at goal. There was also a wonky pass to Ma'a Nonu. But overall he was as composed inside the No10 jersey in the 37-24 victory as he was during his run-on debut against the Reds a couple of weeks ago.

His quickness of hand and foot was there, plus a fair bit of courage against a backline which featured some big hitters in Julian Savea, Alapati Leiua and Conrad Smith. He looks like a natural, but time will tell whether he can make a success of what has been a major problem position for the franchise since the days of Carlos Spencer.

West, 22, was brought in as a back-up but after only a couple of matches has probably overtaken Simon Hickey, another youngster. He appears set to start the Blues' remaining three matches after the June break against the Force, Crusaders and Chiefs in the pivotal position.

John Kirwan, basking in a victory over a team which last weekend demolished the defending champion Chiefs, was glowing in his praise for the little Hawkes Bay player.

"The thing which sticks in my mind is when he caught the high ball and passed it 30 yards which freed Lolagi [Visinia] and George Moala scored from that," Kirwan said. "It was pretty courageous and pretty good skill at the same time."

West said: "My main focus was catching the ball first because there was a bit of pressure coming. Lolagi was outside me screaming for it so I trusted his call and just managed to get it to him.

"I was pretty nervous, especially running out there," West added. "I was a bit shellshocked, but after my first touch of the ball they [nerves] settled and I was able to work my way into it slowly and I felt pretty good after a while. I'm definitely pretty pleased with how I went and the team as well. It clicked. In the past few games we've probably only been 5 per cent away. We gained that 5 per cent now and we're almost there.

"I felt good out there. Hopefully I can hang on to that No 10 jersey and get more comfortable as I go on."

The Blues lie in 10th place overall, six points away from the sixth-placed Hurricanes. However, Kirwan refuses to give up on his playoffs dream.

"No one in the organisation believes we're out of it," he said. "We still think we can come home strong.

"It's a hard ask but every time this rugby team gets put under pressure they stand up and I'm really proud of that."

He will give his team this week off, but has a match against a Barbarians team in Northland lined up for the following week.

Kirwan said he had spoken to the Breakers' basketball franchise about the best way to approach a match in Perth and the Blues will leave for the Force match later in the week - on a Wednesday for the match on Saturday, June 28 - in order to mitigate against the effects of the four-hour time difference.

- NZ Herald

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