Gregor Paul

Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Rugby: Blues staunch to their own style

Piri Weepu celebrates with Rene Ranger after scoring a try during the round eight match between the Blues and the Highlanders. Photo / Getty Images
Piri Weepu celebrates with Rene Ranger after scoring a try during the round eight match between the Blues and the Highlanders. Photo / Getty Images

Often thrilling, occasionally pressure-inducing and sometimes plain mad, the Blues, however mixed the results, will not be backing away from their counter-attack running game.

There were times on Friday night against the Highlanders when a well-placed hoof down the field appeared the best option. But such thinking isn't in the manual and, despite running down a few dead ends and being caught behind the gain line on occasion, their attacking instincts proved critical in the end.

It was Frank Halai's break from deep inside his own 22 that was the catalyst for one of Piri Weepu's two tries. Charles Piutau had nearly made an equally effective break-out and by keeping the ball in hand, the Blues were, if nothing else, able to build a little confidence and rhythm.

That's important because they appear to need time on the ball to fall into good patterns and start feeling the pace of the game. They also look more natural when they play on instinct and take risks.

Not everyone will agree. The age-old complaint about the Blues, regardless of coach, is that they need to balance the desire to run with percentage plays. It has been a challenge in the past getting that balance right - too often they have kicked when they could have run; run when they could have kicked; by the end of the season, they have been a confused mess no longer certain about anything.

Under John Kirwan, the confusion is not likely to manifest. The coach has been clear: His side will be allowed to back their judgement; they won't be discouraged from running regardless of outcome.

Kirwan is prepared to be patient, take the long-term approach of accepting that mistakes will be made, but the answer is not to order more conservatism. The future for the Blues will be better if the players can learn how to read the game for themselves - build the experience of knowing how to use their options.

"I have two big wings playing outside me who are playing well and the coaches have given us licence to attack," says fullback Piutau. "I guess if we hold on to the ball, we can make good yards back.

"But there is a big picture - if there is space behind, then we can put the ball down the field, depending on how the game is going. If we are under pressure, then we can play a bit of territory and adapt."

To date, there hasn't been much evidence of the Blues playing for territory and skipper Ali Williams joked that, in his advancing years, he'd personally choose that road to save his legs. But he also made the serious point that the game plan is not about him - it is about the collective. If running from everywhere takes the team forward, allows them to be more effective, then it is the right way to play.

"You would think that was the case," says Piutau of whether Williams advocated more conservative rugby during the Highlanders clash. "But he is the one encouraging us to do what we want to do. To get that from your skipper gives you the confidence to play. He has to work hard - but he is all for it. He says play. Just play. Go with our instincts. If we try something, don't hold back."

• George Moala has been suspended for one week for a dangerous tackle on Buxton Popoali'i. The Blues wing was yellow carded - his fore-arm connected with Popoali'i's head, knocking the Highlanders wing unconscious - but the citing commissioner deemed that it met the red card threshold.

- NZ Herald

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