Wynne Gray

Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

Rugby: Halfback key issues for Blues

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

In recent seasons the All Blacks have settled on Piri Weepu for the halfback battles with Will Genia.

They figured Weepu brought the best combative mix to serve his own backline and upset the Wallaby linchpin.

Weepu has started five of the All Blacks' last seven tests against their transtasman rivals while Jimmy Cowan was preferred for the other two matches. That sense of history and Weepu's continuing fitness gains will be major debating points at the Blues' selection table today as they mull over their side for Friday's next match with the Reds at Eden Park.

Coach Pat Lam said Weepu was improving and had played club rugby again when he visited family in Wellington last weekend. If he did not have that dispensation, Weepu would not be getting that extra chance to build up his match conditioning. "He is getting there and again that comes into selection this week," Lam said.

Weepu was applying growing pressure and halfback would be one of the positions up for most discussion.

Fellow All Black Ali Williams had impressed with his response after being benched and given a serious tuneup for his modest effort.

"I thought [Ali] had a superb game at the weekend," said Lam. "The acid went on him."

His work in the set piece and especially the scrum was valued and his work around the field against the Highlanders had been a great improvement. He had flagged a touch in the late stages but it had been his best game of the season.

Tony Woodcock earned Lam's player of the day citation while Ma'a Nonu had played his best game for the Blues, Weepu had shown strong form and Anscombe was improving with each match in the Blues colours.

The spirit was still strong in the Blues despite their rough run. Lam felt his side had suffered some tough calls but that was life in top-level sport.

"We can't buy a trick at the moment but we've just got to keep working. I can't fault the effort, we are close but not close enough."

Lam said his work was about looking at how the Blues managed their work. They had tuned up their defence and breakdown work against the Highlanders, they had not been beaten by any great margins but there were still areas which needed attention. They had to make better tactical judgments.

"These guys are still united and working for it. All the games we are right in it and there are just some key things which are not going for us," Lam said. The Reds had their issues but "we are completely with our backs to the wall".

Fullback Rudi Wulf was having a scan on his shoulder and might be available but there were no other reinforcements coming from the casualty ward.

The Reds get outside back Digby Ioane back from his five-week suspension and he will replace the latest casualty, Ben Tapuai, but they have also lost lock Van Humphries to injury.

- NZ Herald

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