Gregor Paul

Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Rugby: Blues success comes from clear game-plan

Piri Weepu played his 100th Super Rugby game in Wellington.Photo / Getty
Piri Weepu played his 100th Super Rugby game in Wellington.Photo / Getty

Without question there is a link between performance and plain English - that is coaches who make sense in the public arena, make sense behind closed doors when they are talking to their players.

The Blues have been a stunning example of that. Last year Pat Lam confused everyone with his riddles, half answers and non-answers to questions on his tactics and selections. The confusion outside the changing room was nothing in comparison with that inside it - and any side that heads out for battle with most of the players uncertain about what they are doing, are going to be toast in no time.

In came John Kirwan last August and he had a plan: everyone knew he had a plan because he said exactly what it was. Everyone knew what type of players he was looking for and that what he wanted in 2013 was a restoration of passion, commitment and consistent performance.

Results, he said, would not necessarily be critical, as long as the team could engage with their people by playing good, imaginative rugby that showed signs of development from week to week.

Pretty simple vision and no one outside the changing room was left wondering. The 34-20 opening night victory in Wellington is proof that no one inside the changing room was left wondering either.

The game-plan was extraordinarily simple: big blokes win the ball, not so big blokes play with the ball. It works for the Chiefs and there is no reason to believe it won't work for the Blues.

The signing of Chris Noakes was greeted with barely restrained groans of frustration that the Blues had again failed to attract a top flight No 10. But he delivered everything and more on opening night. He has the maturity to keep his head, play his game and understand the bigger picture. He impressed with his tactical awareness and ability to find holes himself and for others.

He was helped no end by a commanding performance from Piri Weepu, who needed to lead... and did. The days of Weepu's backside blocking out the sun for minutes at a time, poised to pass, may be gone forever.

Playing his 100th Super Rugby game on a ground that means everything to him, he played off a combination of instinct and experience to keep the tempo high and the Blues going forward.

With the inside pairing providing control and authority, the rest of the team could focus on their jobs: jobs that they understood and knew how to do.

One victory is not emphatic or irrefutable proof that the Blues are cured. The season stretches through the winter and beyond these days and it may even transpire that the Hurricanes are not the toughest challenge by any means.

But just as Kirwan was clear about his expectations last August, so too was their clarity late on Saturday: the win would be enjoyed he said, but they only had six days to prepare for the Crusaders and if their feet leave the ground for a second in the preparation, they'll be picking up the pieces at Eden Park this Friday.

- www.nzherald.co.nz

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