Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Gregor Paul: Once an athlete's legs are gone, it's all over

Benji Marshall of the Blues. Photo / Getty Images
Benji Marshall of the Blues. Photo / Getty Images

The Benji Marshall experiment was doomed from the start. League to rugby conversions have a notoriously low success rate, but Marshall's failure to make any impact at the Blues has nothing to do with the intricacies of his new code and everything to do with the fact he might be past his best as an athlete.

It is said rugby players - both codes - are a bit like boxers. The legs go first, the career follows.

As Marshall laboured his way through 45 minutes in Wellington last Friday, it wasn't his turn-and-shuffle passing that pegged him as a dead duck. It wasn't his lack of length or intricacy in his kicking game either.

Read more:
Benji Marshall - 'I'm an average rugby player'
Benji off the leash

No, it was the chronic lack of acceleration that no doubt troubled coach John Kirwan most. It would have been the missing zip and spark that made Kirwan think that he was dealing with someone who could be at this rugby business for another five years and still be a shadow on the fast tracks of Super Rugby, which tend to be dominated by young, agile men.

Kirwan always backed himself to turn a great athlete into a great rugby player. What he's discovered in the past six months is that he doesn't have a great athlete on his hands. The Wests Tigers league club, it now seems, came to that conclusion last year.

The offer they made Marshall earlier was suddenly reduced. They could see the future.

The Blues rushed in where others feared to tread, and reached down the back of the couch to find all the loose change they could.

Perhaps they should have twigged before they bought Marshall. Perhaps they should have twigged when he turned up out of condition - a long way behind the rest of the squad - but it would appear they have reached a conclusion.

It maybe unfair to judge Marshall on just 212 minutes, but if his legs have gone, he's gone.


- NZ Herald

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Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer. He has written several books on rugby including the Reign of King Henry, Black Obsession and For the Love of the Game.

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