Rugby: Growing pack power a welcome boost for Kirwan's Blues

By Campbell Burnes

Blues head coach Sir John Kirwan. Photo / Getty Images
Blues head coach Sir John Kirwan. Photo / Getty Images

Amid the Benji Marshall saga and a listing ship sporting a spotty 3-5 record, John Kirwan is happy to seize on anything positive surrounding his beleaguered Blues.

So the front-row will do nicely.

Scrum data, other than resets, is difficult to come by, but this Blues set-piece is warming to its task, and the return of hooker Keven Mealamu and the locking duo of Tom Donnelly and Patrick Tuipulotu can only help.

"When you get a pushover [penalty] try, things are happening pretty well," said Kirwan. "I think in the last two to three weeks that part of the game has been really, really good. The scrum has come right and the set-piece is functioning pretty well. This week we need to work harder on a bit more aggression at ruck and working hard around the corner defensively."

Blues fans would be thinking that with four All Blacks in the tight five, the team should be more dominant in the scrums, but Mealamu, in particular, and Donnelly have spent chunks of the campaign injured.

Tighthead prop Charlie Faumuina and loosehead Tony Woodcock are coming on to their games, which can only be good for Steve Hansen's blood pressure, among others.

"I think it's going really well. It's a massive change from where it was a month ago, where it was something that wasn't reliable to set a platform for our backs. Now we can have a go at other teams off that, so the confidence in the boys is up," said Faumuina, whose 2013 Super Rugby season was wrecked by calf issues, much like Mealamu in 2014.

Tuipulotu brings much-needed scrum beef behind Faumuina at tighthead lock.

Some technical tweaks on the engagement with scrum coach Nick White have also proven useful.

This Friday night Faumuina will lock horns with wily, 66-test Waratahs veteran loosehead Benn Robinson.

"It's always been an interesting battle over the last few years. If he gets his way, he can get into a nice, strong position and give you trouble all night, but if you can control his angles, we're sure we can take care of him."

The Blues, of course, have got other issues to tweak or overhaul, not the least of which is their breakdown work, where they were well beaten by the hungry Hurricanes, and implementation of their game plan.

"It's a defining game of the season for us," said Faumuina. "We really need this game and the Reds [on May 2] to get back on track."

Chris Noakes, who was concussed against the Hurricanes, did not come through tests yesterday with flying colours. Kirwan could promote new squad member Ihaia West to the bench with Simon Hickey resuming his starting role. Kirwan did rule out playing the returning Piri Weepu at first five, but the halfback is medically fit for selection at either No 9 or 21.

The engine room

• Tony Woodcock: All Black caps 107, Super Rugby 132
• Keven Mealamu: 110, 154
• Charlie Faumuina: 17, 53
• Tom Donnelly: 15, 90
• Patrick Tuipulotu: 5 (in Super Rugby).

- APNZ

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