Blues battle puts a lot on the line for Anscombe

By Kris Shannon

Gareth Anscombe will have a point to prove against his former side. Photo / Getty Images
Gareth Anscombe will have a point to prove against his former side. Photo / Getty Images

Gareth Anscombe will hardly be short of motivation for tonight's showdown against the Blues.

For one, it may be his last chance to impress at first five-eighth before he hands the reins to the returning Aaron Cruden.

The conclusion of that particular audition is directly tied to his future role, and whether the Chiefs, the Blues or perhaps the Wales Rugby Union will seek his services next season.

And if the Blues are indeed interested, what better way to boost his own stocks than by outplaying old mate Simon Hickey and consigning his former franchise to defeat.

Blues v Chiefs - Last six encounters
July 13, 2013 - Chiefs 26-16
March 30, 2013 - Chiefs 23-16
June 2, 2012 - Chiefs 41-34
March 2, 2012 - Chiefs 29-14
June 4, 2011 - Chiefs 16-11
March 25, 2011 - Blues 16-13

It's a lot on the line for one match - and the stakes are equally lofty for his team - but Anscombe has spent the week ensuring he relishes another run in the No10 jersey, rather than fret about the future consequences of the outing.

"Not playing 10 for 18 months made it a bit challenging but I've really enjoyed being there," he said. "I've just been enjoying my time at 10 and, obviously with Cruds coming back soon, I don't know how many more opportunities I'll get."

Rugby Herald - Blues v Chiefs

Video

That's not to say Anscombe will willingly cede his spot, though. He intends to apply as much pressure as possible and ensure the competition for places remains a tough call for his coaches.

But, realistically, Cruden is likely to retain his first-choice status, having started every match during the Chiefs' consecutive championship campaigns. And therein lies the conundrum for Anscombe.

Chiefs v Blues Yarrow Stadium, 7.35 tonight - Live updates on nzherald.co.nz

While the 22-year-old has found a new home in Hamilton, excelling at fullback after being jettisoned from the Blues, he still sees himself as a first-five and wants the chance to cement a starting role in his preferred position.

He may find himself seated on a merry-go-round of pivots, with Beauden Barrett, Tom Taylor and Lima Sopoaga among the 10s who could be on the move from one Super rugby side to another. Or Anscombe could head for the valleys - a Welsh mother ensures his eligibility for the national team.

Scotty Stevenson on the NZ Conference: Squeezing it till it squeaks

Whatever the decision, Anscombe will leave the thinking until the June international window, at least.

"It's hard to know - there's always speculation," he said. "I'm just trying to focus on what my role here is. Maybe when I get a few weeks off there'll be a chance to have a look at things and reflect and see where my future's going."

His present has been progressing nicely in recent weeks, with him looking more assured at No10 by the minute. That improvement is perhaps unsurprising, given his previous lack of time in the role, and Dave Rennie supported the assertion that Anscombe had his best game in last week's big win over the Lions.

Kris Shannon on the road: Chiefs play big card to win Taranaki hearts

"He's getting better and better - it's just time in the seat," Rennie said. "He's a smart footy player, so we've got a lot of confidence in him.

"I thought he controlled the game well, he kicked very well, and he challenged and found a bit of space with his running game."

If Anscombe can again display those attributes in New Plymouth tonight, it will go a long way towards helping his team to a vital victory. Two seasons removed from his exit, he no longer has any personal axes to grind with the Blues, but the Aucklander is still keen to shine in front of some old friends.

Chiefs
15 Tom Marshall, 14 Dwayne Sweeney, 13 Tim Nanai-Williams, 12 Bundee Aki, 11 James Lowe, 10 Gareth Anscombe, 9 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 8 Liam Messam (c), 7 Sam Cane, 6 Tanerau Latimer, 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Michael Fitzgerald, 3 Ben Tameifuna, 2Nathan Harris, 1 Pauliasi Manu. Reserves: Mahonri Schwalger, Jamie Mackintosh, Josh Hohneck, Matt Symons, Liam Squire, Brad Weber, Andrew Horrell, Anton Lienert-Brown.

Blues
15 Charles Piutau, 14 Frank Halai, 13 George Moala, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Lolagi Visinia, 10 Simon Hickey, 9 Bryn Hall, 8 Jerome Kaino, 7 Brendon O'Connor, 6 Peter Saili, 5 Tom Donnelly, 4 Patrick Tuipulotu, 3 Charlie Faumuina, 2 Keven Mealamu (c), 1 Tony Woodcock. Reserves: James Parsons, Sam Prattley, Angus Ta'avao, Hayden Triggs, Steven Luatua, Piri Weepu, Ihaia West, Pita Ahki.

- NZ Herald

Stats provided by

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on red akl_n4 at 24 Sep 2014 01:51:07 Processing Time: 1086ms