Justin Marshall 's Opinion

Justin Marshall is a former All Blacks halfback and current columnist for the New Zealand Herald

Justin Marshall: How to resurrect Blues' season

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Crusaders and champions show what rugby can be like at its brutal rawest and also at its most compelling - wonderful to watch.

The Blues are a dejected mob after their loss to the Hurricanes and they need to find a game plan that maximises their resources. Photo / Getty Images
The Blues are a dejected mob after their loss to the Hurricanes and they need to find a game plan that maximises their resources. Photo / Getty Images

What a game of stunning intensity and brutality in Hamilton on Saturday, a game that was comparable to most test matches.

I'll get to that soon, but first there is an itch that needs scratching in Blues territory.

From the start of the season I've maintained that the Blues are a team with the talent and strike-power to make the playoffs. What they need is a game plan to maximise their resources. Two months into the season, I'm not convinced they've found one.

They need to make adjustments, but it can be done. Look at where the Crusaders were after a month. They looked insipid on attack but they went back to a power game up front and have started using Kieran Read in a wider, rangier role. I'm not saying the Blues should mirror what the Crusaders are doing, but it is a micro-example of a team that has made adjustments on the fly.

The Blues have been relatively consistent in the way they're trying to play, but it's not working. They need to inject more physicality into their play, particularly in the backs. They don't use their big wings - like Frank Halai and George Moala - and centres to bring the ball back against the grain and smash over the advantage line.

At the moment there's not enough punch in the midfield and with the talent they have; that speaks more to gameplan issues than personnel.

Steven Luatua is another player who does not seem to be thriving with the way they are playing. Watch him for the All Blacks and he's almost like another Kieran Read, ranging wide and creating havoc running at backs. With the Blues he's too often stuck in the tight, picking and going. It's a limited use of such an expansive talent.

People might point to a lack of passion in the Blues, but I look at John Kirwan and I can see how much winning means to him. I'd be shocked if he's not getting the same sort of desire out of his players.

What we're seeing is not so much a lack of heart, but maybe a lack of rugby smarts. Look back at the game against the Brumbies in Canberra and they were pinned down too easily and didn't realise they needed to kick more. On Friday night, the Hurricanes were able to get behind them with a kicking game and again they didn't react and come up with a way to counter.

Watch: Rugby: Blues 'under pressure'

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If you look at that backline, there's not a whole lot of experience there and that showed against the Hurricanes. Look on the other side and there was Conrad Smith and Cory Jane - two players who read the game brilliantly - directing operations with All Black first-five Beauden Barrett. It was a world of difference in the experience stakes.

It is still fixable. It is not as if the Blues are not getting any ball, they're just not doing enough with it. That was an accusation you could throw at the Crusaders earlier in the year and maybe they're still some way short of perfection in that regard, but what you cannot fault is their heart and desire.

With the job I do, I have to remain neutral and objective, but I can't change the fact I was a Crusader and I want them to do well. I was proud of the way they played in Hamilton because I saw the sort of qualities the success of the franchise were founded upon - that refusal to lose and to fight for every inch - and a desire I haven't seen for a couple of years now.

This was an amazing game, with All Blacks that looked like they just wanted to front up against each other, and although it's early, it felt like we were watching the two best teams in the competition.

It was a difficult night - the conditions were not great, every set-piece was challenged and it was hardly raining tries ... but it was an absolute pleasure to watch.

Colin Slade was superb, as was Andy Ellis when he came on, and Tom Taylor equipped himself well defensively up against a pretty potent midfield.

But it was sheer brutality of the clash between the tight fives that caught the eye.

This was rugby at its rawest - and at its most compelling.

- NZ Herald

Justin Marshall

Justin Marshall is a former All Blacks halfback and current columnist for the New Zealand Herald

Justin Marshall played 81 test matches for the All Blacks, including four as captain. The halfback made his debut in 1995 against France and ended his career 10 years later with a series sweep over the British and Irish Lions. He won five Super Rugby titles with the Crusaders, playing 105 games for the franchise. He commentates for Sky Television.

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