Justin Marshall: Killer instinct taking hold in Kirwan's men

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Blues celebrate Jackson Willison's try against the Crusaders. Photo / Richard Robinson
Blues celebrate Jackson Willison's try against the Crusaders. Photo / Richard Robinson

If you're a fan of the Blues, you have every right to feel encouraged by what you saw on Friday night.

Almost all the concerns that had developed over the past few seasons, and which also crept into their opening loss to the Highlanders, seemed to be addressed against the Crusaders.

Down 17-3, something clicked. They didn't panic, didn't fall back to type and rely on individual brilliance to get them out of trouble.

Even last year you got the feeling that if they had found themselves in a similar position, they would have responded by chucking the ball to Rene Ranger and asked him to do something amazing to get them back in the match.

This time they obviously got all the right messages at halftime, galvanised as a team rather than as a group of talented individuals, and worked their way back methodically into the game. In the end it wasn't even close.

They won going away and I hope for their sakes they've found a blueprint that works for them.

They had some disruptions during the week, with changes in key positions like first-five, but you couldn't be anything but impressed by the way they went about their work.

Just down the road, the Chiefs were just as impressive in their own way.

They have developed an aura that is not too dissimilar to the All Blacks and great Crusaders teams of the past. What I mean by that is there is a sense of inevitability about the result, even when everything seems to be conspiring against them.

I look back to Aviva Stadium at the end of last year. At halftime, with Ireland completely in charge, you would have expected the place to be buzzing, but there was more a quiet sense of dread, an innate knowledge that the All Blacks, somehow, would find a way of getting back into the match. Ireland had no right to lose that match but they did and while everybody there was disappointed, nobody was shocked.

I'm not a big fan of harking back to "my day", but I couldn't count how many times I've sat in Crusader dressing rooms, wondering how we managed to win a game we should have lost. Winning is a skill and at the moment the Chiefs are better at it than anybody else.

You couldn't hand-on-heart say they were the better side in their first two games. Against the Crusaders they lost pretty much every statistical category except the one that really matters. On Saturday, at best you could say they earned parity with the committed Highlanders.

When they are under the pump, a switch flicks with them and their best players start producing the goods and you're just waiting for them to win. That confidence is an ingredient that is uncoachable.

•Just a few weeks into the season and we're already seeing squad depth being tested to the limit.

The Hurricanes, Crusaders and chiefs in particular are having to dig deep .

Those of us who play Dream Team Fantasy Rugby are beginning to appreciate the need for savvy squad selections.

Those in charge of real teams will be also. It used to be that you picked your best 15 and then picked up bits and pieces to fill out your squad, but the whole paradigm has changed. You need multiple players in each position able to play at a high level.

There's a real context to squad depth that we will see unfold over the coming weeks.

Look at someone like Ma'a Nonu at the Blues: he is going to change the way the Blues approach their midfield.

Squad depth, and the management of it, will be the key contributing factor to success this season.

- NZ Herald

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