Chris Rattue 's Opinion

Chris Rattue is a sports columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

Chris Rattue: Marshall must sink or swim at first-five

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Benji Marshall. Photo / Getty Images
Benji Marshall. Photo / Getty Images

Chuck Benji Marshall in the deep end and give us all a break from the "no pressure" gobbledegook concerning the Blues' high-profile recruit.

Marshall faces the Waratahs in Sydney tomorrow night and the former league star will apparently share the trial game with his fellow first five-eighths contender Chris Noakes.

Sir John Kirwan was at pains to go easy on Marshall before the opening hit-out against the Hurricanes in Masterton.

"As far as we're concerned there's no pressure on him," said the coach. After the game, Marshall claimed the coaching staff weren't putting a lot of expectations on him. Yeah? Really?

We might understand the sentiment, but there should always be pressure and expectation on everyone at this level, including Kirwan, who is in danger of treating first five-eighths like the X Factor with the Super 15 kickoff just two weeks away.

Marshall got 40 minutes against the Hurricanes, while Baden Kerr and another league convert, Matt McGahan, also had a run. Kerr's injury didn't help the situation, but Marshall was subbed and the time has come to put a brake on the merry-go-round.

Should Noakes and Marshall play against the Waratahs, that makes four first five-eighths in two trial games. Kirwan had the 2013 season to sort this out.

Uncertainty at No10 equals uncertainty throughout the team.

I'll admit to having little faith in Kirwan turning the Blues around, despite wholeheartedly admiring the man himself. He's always seemed a bit ethereal and his record is hardly compelling. The way Sir Graham Henry popped in and out of his job as the Blues' technical adviser last year didn't raise the optimism levels, although Henry realised the error of his ways and has committed properly to the Super 15 team this season.

And then along came Marshall - and this crazy experiment got even crazier when the plan to start him as a fullback was scrapped. It's all so indecisive.

Yes, Kirwan deserves a bit of time to deliver on whatever vision he has, but the upward curve is hard to spot. What have we got so far in 2014? Jerome Kaino has yet to appear out of Japan, where his game won't have improved, Ma'a Nonu was recruited with an existing ankle injury that has subsequently put him out of action, there's a locking crisis, Tony Woodcock wandered back even though he tends to pace himself in the Super 15 ... this is all so very Blues-like unfortunately.

Here's the deal with Marshall. He's not a training wheel - first-five-eighths is the central cog. The bloke is on the big money, so we want the big performances. There's pressure all right, because this is professional sport, and that pressure includes debate over whether Marshall should have been signed in the first place. "No pressure" is for the Presidents grade.

A fully engaged Henry will make a huge difference to the Blues, but they need to emphasise who runs the team on the field. The Super 15 kicks off in two weeks and there's just one further trial game, against the high-workrate Chiefs. Marshall concedes the transition has been tougher than he expected, that it was like going back to square one. Every minute on the field is invaluable for assessing and educating Marshall. So give him the maximum game time and mantle, sort out once and for all who theback-up is, and get on with it,troops.

Summer of my content

This has been an invigorating summer of sport.

The New Zealand cricket team has hit terrific form, with Ross Taylor proving himself a world star and younger players emerging. The Wellington Phoenix are also on the move in the right direction, and are playing well enough to win the A-League soccer title under new coach Ernie Merrick.

Lydia Ko continues to grab impressive headlines.

The Auckland league nines look extremely promising.

Rugby will always dominate our sporting landscape, but it's so important that we have success that encourages diversity and it's been a decent old summer in that regard.

The perfect finish would be a cricket test series victory over India.

The first international of the two-test series begins today at Eden Park in Auckland.

- NZ Herald

Chris Rattue

Chris Rattue is a sports columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

Chris Rattue writes about a wide range of sports for the New Zealand Herald. He has covered numerous sporting events for the Herald including Rugby World Cups and the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

Read more by Chris Rattue

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