Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

Rugby: Halai aims to calm nerves in return Canes clash

Blues player Frank Halai. Photo / Dean Purcell
Blues player Frank Halai. Photo / Dean Purcell

Not many wings upstage Julian Savea as Frank Halai managed on his Blues debut.

That two tries to one margin was offset when Halai missed his rival on defence and spent time in the sin bin after tussling with him.

Halai was edgy that night as he made his debut for the Blues and nearly two months on, he is apprehensive about the return clash.

The Hurricanes are on a four-game roll and the Blues, after a three-game stumble, have returned to the winning stage as they eye tomorrow's duel at Eden Park.

"I was nervous then and the same feelings are hanging around now," Halai said.

"I feel I have been in a bit of a lull like the team and we have to get working again," he said.

The Blues are without suspended wing George Moala and injured prop Charlie Faumuina from the sides' opening clash while the Hurricanes have lost a group of players to injury.

They have also chosen Tusi Pisi to play five-eighths, with Beauden Barrett dropping back to fullback as they look for some stronger frontline defence.

Blues coach John Kirwan knows Pisi's game well from his time in Japan and while he mentioned his attacking prowess, he did not detail his defensive qualities.

It had been easy for the Blues to push Rene Ranger out to the left wing and include Francis Saili at centre for this game.

Ranger will train today after taking time out for the birth of his daughter and Kirwan was sure his positional versatility would interest the All Black selectors.

The Blues coach and Halai had been spending extra time working on running lines, tackling techniques and high ball security as the 25-year-old worked through his debut Super 15 season.

"The hardest piece is defence, working off the ball, getting the workrate up and learning to make every tackle," Halai said.

"Savea ran over me last time near the sideline but we beat them and want to do that again."

Kirwan's advice was invaluable and reassuring. He encouraged Halai to express himself and gave him a licence to roam the field in much the way Tana Umaga had encouraged him at Counties.

But there had to be a balance and that was all about learning to be a professional.

Tomorrow's match was another must-win clash, that was the nature of this series and conference rugby.

"With our scrums, we need to win the hit and then chase a bit more," he said.

The Blues needed to start with that set piece quality to match where they finished against the Highlanders.

A key man for the Blues would be halfback Piri Weepu. He was in outstanding touch, had worked hard to get fit and match-hardened and that was showing in his game.

- NZ Herald

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