Rugby: Mealamu backs coach but criticises Weepu

By Michael Brown

Piri Weepu. Photo / Getty Images.
Piri Weepu. Photo / Getty Images.

Blues captain Keven Mealamu has backed under-fire coach Pat Lam but said out-of-shape halfback Piri Weepu has let the side down as they contemplate their worst start to a Super Rugby season.

The Blues sit equal last on the competition ladder with only one win from their six games and have come under increasing scrutiny since their abject 34-23 defeat to the Rebels last week.

Most of that pressure has gone on Lam, who has said he won't resign, but Mealamu said the players need to take their share of responsibility.

"We back this guy,'' Mealamu told Radio Sport. "We do back our coach. We want to do that by showing everyone on the field.

"I'm hurting at the moment. We are working hard to try to get our team back on track. Just really gutted we haven't got the season we wanted at the moment.''

It wasn't supposed to be this way. The Blues were among the favourites this season after progressing to last year's semifinals and their title credentials were only supposed to have been enhanced with the additions of Weepu and Ma'a Nonu.

But Weepu, in particular, has been a major disappointment and it hasn't helped he put on considerable weight after the World Cup.

He has always struggled with his weight and underwent extra sessions with sevens coach Gordon Tietjens last year in the hope of getting fit for the World Cup but it ballooned over summer.

"I think he's disappointed he turned up in that sort of shape,'' Mealamu said. "From the team's point of view, he's a player we could definitely do with out there. He's probably not in the top condition he's been in during his career and that's what we need, for him to be at top fitness level to help the team along. He's probably the most disappointed he's not been able to contribute to the team the way he would have liked to.

"If he turned up in better condition, he would have been able to contribute more. That's something he's going to have to look at. We're going to have to look at as well. We're all professionals here, we shouldn't turn up in that sort of shape.''

Mealamu's star has also faded. The 33-year-old veteran of more than 135 Super Rugby games has always led from the front even if the Blues have struggled but this term he looks sluggish and past his best. That's contributed to suggestions various All Blacks are suffering a World Cup hangover.

"I really feel like I'm lacking a bit of confidence at the moment and I think that's across the board in our team,'' he said. "The boys are making errors and dropping our heads at the moment.

"It hurts [me] to the bottom of my heart. I get up each morning and enjoy coming to work and playing for the Blues. It hurts that I haven't been able to lead this team and get the results.

"I don't think we have been in this position before, where we are under this sort of pressure.''

They have brought some on themselves and fans didn't take kindly to news a couple of players were out drinking _ and tweeting about it _ after their defeat to the Rebels. There's a perception the Blues players don't care but Mealamu said this was off the mark.

"I can tell you that's definitely wrong,'' said Mealamu, who is into his 12th season with the Blues. ``I love my franchise and where I come from. This jersey means a lot to me. I'm disappointed people think like that. We put a lot of work into it but you have to understand the sides we play against put in equal effort as well.

"I'm disappointed and I know [the guys who were drinking] are disappointed as well. I saw them the next day and it's not like they went out and drank heavily. They had a couple of beers.

"But they probably shouldn't have been out tweeting they were out on the town. We are in a position where we are copping it from everywhere and it doesn't help.''

The only thing that will is victory against the Sharks at Eden Park on Friday.

- APNZ

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