Wynne Gray

Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

Rugby: Saili developing into role

Loose forward's form has blossomed to the extent he is providing on-field leadership.

The list of rock solid No8's in the Blues history is not extensive. However, Peter Saili is starting to suggest he should be added to that register.

It is some shift from Saili who was no certainty to make his fifth season of Super rugby when John Kirwan and his selectors began their cull.

But in two starts this season, Saili has suggested a greater influence than in 45 other appearances since his 2009 arrival.

Flick through the Blues history and Zinzan Brooke, Xavier Rush and Jerome Kaino have been the strong men in the demanding No8 role.

Kaino had more impact on the blindside, which is also the best domain for current squad loosie Steven Luatua who can fill in at the boot of the scrum.

In recent times, Viliami Ma'afu, Nick Williams, Mat Luamanu and Saili were tried at No8 without regular profit. It was not necessarily their fault in some of the fractured Blues line-ups.

When Saili made the 2013 squad, the jury was still out on his quality.

Boom work against the Hurricanes and Crusaders refined that perception. Even an inflamed Achilles tendon could not mess with his imprint.

The silly things had disappeared. The loose ball carries, the pushed pass, the high tackle or sloppy breakdown position - most were a thing of the past as Saili ruled his rugby corridors.

He has the physique for it. He is 112kg and 1.89m of unrelenting energy and another of the men the Blues are bringing to bloom. "I think his consistency has been one of our work-ons," coach Kirwan said.

"It has been concentrating on doing the little things. It is making sure he does the little things well and he lets the big stuff take care of itself.

"He is a big player, he has got strength, he gets us forward, he can offload and do most things but that is consistency."

Saili was not a noisy man but his actions meant he was delivering a leadership role for the Blues.

He will return to the side for Sunday's match-up with the Waratahs in Sydney with the bulk of the side who earned victories against the Hurricanes and Crusaders reunited for this clash.

The staff were pleased at the squad's renewed commitment after their bye. They had been enthusiastic after their break and set for what would be a tough assignment against a Waratahs side under the pump.

Their coach Michael Cheika was grumpy about his team's sub-par performances and was demanding some serious improvement from his test-laden group.

"We really need to get over there and get our points and get out because then we have our [NZ] conference coming," said Kirwan.

The Waratahs had a huge pack like the Bulls and the Blues had to get their game plan spot on and be technically sharp for this contest.

"We have to get up on our defence and have to win that WWF-type battle," Kirwan said.

Former All Black lock Anthony Boric would be on the bench in the next stage of his rehabilitation after neck surgery and three hit-outs for the development side.

- NZ Herald

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