Wynne Gray

Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

Rugby: Lam keeps faith in his team but injuries reduce choice

Blues coach Pat Lam has made several changes to his side to face the Hurricanes on Friday night. Photo / Getty Images.
Blues coach Pat Lam has made several changes to his side to face the Hurricanes on Friday night. Photo / Getty Images.

When the selection cards were dealt, the Blues delivered minimal change rather than the furnace blast alterations coach Pat Lam was threatening.

Initially, Lam was furious at the last game neglect against the Reds but that anger dissipated when he rewound the tape and assessed his player options.

The outcome was the return of Chris Lowrey to blindside flanker, the inclusion of Michael Hobbs at first five-eighths and Benson Stanley back at centre which allows Rene Ranger to shift to the wing for the injured Rudi Wulf.

Lam's choices were reduced as he dealt with an injury list of Keven Mealamu, Tony Woodcock, Jerome Kaino, Isaia Toeava, Anthony Boric, Brad Mika and Wulf.

However, he has returned to Hobbs, who ran the backline for the opening two games before he went on leave from the trip in South Africa to deal with his father's death.

Since then Hobbs has played five more matches but all as a substitute.

Now he goes "home" where he will face off against one of the bright young five-eighths, Beauden Barrett, who continues to direct an unchanged Hurricanes side.

Gareth Anscombe was not a scapegoat for the woeful last loss to the Reds, everyone in the team was accountable.

"On reflection of the game, one thing I have made clear is that Gareth Anscombe is the future going forward," Lam said. "You have to remember he is a young 20-year-old not long out of school who has a very promising career. But trying to run the show, I think he has had six out of nine games and made some good improvements, now is a chance to sit back and reflect on how he has gone.

"Then I believe through that process as well as getting the experience - I mean all the top players even Foxy and the top ones we have got here, have been through this process about losing your place go through it, reflect, come back stronger and I believe this will happen."

All Black frontrowers Mealamu and Woodcock were keen to play after calf injuries but the medical staff felt a further week's rehab was wise.

Lineouts had been a focus since the meltdowns last round and hooker Tom McCartney had accepted much of the responsibility for a bad night at the office.

"I know the next day he was straight in working on and I am confident he will show what he is really made of," said Lam.

"He felt pretty - in his words, 'stink'- that the lineout suffered which was really rare for Tom but I think he will show what he normally does this weekend."

The Blues had beaten their opponents on the ground last round in the lineout to find space but McCartney had been unable to connect with his targets.

Lowrey needed a break last game and his return would help that lineout. They would also need some experience off the bench later in the game. The Blues had not been strong in that area and the coach felt Daniel Braid would deliver that sort of sting.

Lam detected more resolve from the senior players like Ali Williams to make the impression that was so absent last match.

HURRICANES

Wellington, 7.35pm tomorrow

Andre Taylor
Cory Jane
Conrad Smith (c)
Tim Bateman
Julian Savea
Beauden Barrett,
TJ Perenara
Victor Vito
Karl Lowe
Faifili Levave
Jason Eaton
Jeremy Thrush
J. Toomaga-Allen
Dane Coles
Ben May

Hurricanes: Motu Matu'u, Reg Goodes, Jack Lam, Brad Shields, Chris Eaton, Charlie Ngatai, Alapati Leiua.

BLUES

Hadleigh Parkes
Rene Ranger
Benson Stanley
Ma'a Nonu
George Moala
Michael Hobbs
Piri Weepu
Peter Saili
Luke Braid (c)
Chris Lowrey,
Ali Williams
Filo Paulo
Charlie Faumuina
Tom McCartney
Tevita Mailau

Blues: James Parsons, Angus Ta'avao, Liaki Moli, Daniel Braid, Alby Mathewson, Lachie Munro, David Raikuna.

- NZ Herald

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