Justin Marshall 's Opinion

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

Justin Marshall: Ageless Ellis can still perform as All Black

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Aaron Smith is out on his own but Crusaders halfback is No2.

The Blues' Charles Piutau runs over Lachlan McCaffrey of the Brumbies in their clash at Canberra. Photo / Getty Images
The Blues' Charles Piutau runs over Lachlan McCaffrey of the Brumbies in their clash at Canberra. Photo / Getty Images

After an intriguing weekend of rugby, the Blues, Crusaders and Chiefs deserve close attention - and there's one player who warrants a special mention: the ageless Andy Ellis.

But first, the Blues. You can look at the scoreboard and say the game wasn't close, and you can look at the way Pat McCabe carved them up and point to him as the big difference. But for me the Brumbies didn't do a lot except beat the Blues in the tactical battle, comprehensively.

The Brumbies won the kicking battle and with it the match. Jesse Mogg at the back had a superb match with the boot and kept the Blues pinned at the wrong end of the field for the vast majority of the match.

On a wet night with a greasy pill, the Blues did not have cohesive exit strategies or the wherewithal to get themselves into the right areas of the field.

It was glaringly obvious they were playing in the wrong parts of the field.

There were probably two main reasons for this. The Blues don't have a top-notch kicking option at fullback like many of the other teams - think Israel Dagg at the Crusaders, Mogg at the Brumbies and most of the South African sides.

Charles Piutau is an outstanding player but tactical kicking is not his strong suit. Benji Marshall is injected into a game to try to make things happen, so he is probably reluctant to kick under those circumstances.

The other reason was the absence of Piri Weepu. Bryn Hall has been a bit of a revelation for the Blues, but they missed Weepu's experience and leadership on Friday. He is tactically very aware, would have tried to take control of the game with his kicking and taken a lot of the pressure off young first-five Simon Hickey.

In Friday's Chalkboard Column I will explain in depth why having a good kicking halfback is a necessity in modern rugby.

They've got one of those at the Crusaders, who still look a bit out of sync but managed to beat a good Lions team at Ellis Park by falling back on the Crusaders' building blocks of old - tenacious defence, aggression at the breakdown and 80-minute energy.

Watching the Crusaders in recent weeks, I believe Ellis is in the top two halfbacks in the country... He was outstanding last week and yesterday he was one of the Crusaders' best, if not the best.

Aaron Smith is out on his own at the moment but I'd have Ellis ahead of the rest. The selectors might be able to look at the likes of Tawera Kerr-Barlow, TJ Perenara and Weepu and say we're well-equipped at halfback, and they'd be right, but we should never be complacent.

Ellis certainly shouldn't be dismissed because they're comfortable with who they've got now. All Black selection, either in or out, should never be a foregone conclusion.

There has been justifiable criticism of the Crusader attack strategies and lack of backline flair, but it is probably their defence that has let them down. They have been leaking too easily. Yesterday they were back to their 90 per cent-plus accuracy on defence.

Finally, the Chiefs. It has been a long time since they won a game, but somehow they've managed to come home with seven points - six from South Africa - without winning a game. Those points might be crucial come the end of the year.

The concern for the coaches will be that they're not playing good rugby. They're playing desperation rugby brilliantly, but there's a big difference.

You suspect they will enjoy getting home.

- 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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