Jim Kayes: Lack of outstanding first five suggests Kirwan's side will struggle for success

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Blues coach John Kirwan. Photo / NZ Herald
Blues coach John Kirwan. Photo / NZ Herald

It's easy to say this is the year the Blues have to deliver. That anything outside the playoffs simply isn't acceptable for the team based in New Zealand's largest city.

But the reality is that, even at their best, in a competition as tough as this the Blues may not be good enough.

No team has won Super Rugby without a world class first five (Quade Cooper was playing like one when the Reds won in 2011). The Blues don't have one. They might have if they'd used the money lavished on Benji Marshall to entice Beauden Barrett out of the Hurricanes, but that didn't happen. Instead they have Chris Noakes and Baden Kerr - good players but not in the same class as Barrett, Aaron Cruden or Dan Carter - and Marshall. The former league star may yet develop into a world class 10, but it is unrealistic to expect that to happen in his first year of rugby.

Depth is another problem. The Blues ooze talent throughout their starting XV with Piri Weepu, Francis Saili, Ma'a Nonu, Charles Piutau and Frank Halai in the backs, an all-All Blacks front row of Charlie Faumuina, Keven Mealamu and Tony Woodcock, and a real edge in loose forwards Jerome Kaino and Steven Luatua.

But there's too little competition from the bench and a worry at lock where injuries and departures have left a lot riding on Tom Donnelly's ageing shoulders.

Woodcock and Nonu's attitude and form will be intriguing after unsuccessful stints with the Highlanders. Serious doubts persist about Nonu's willingness to find form at this level but he has to, if only to repay Sir John Kirwan for taking him back when no one else wanted him.

Attention will also focus on Kirwan. His team finished 10th with just six wins and 10 defeats last year. Their 44 points were 22 behind the Chiefs and 16 behind the Crusaders who won 12 and 11 games respectively. It was Kirwan's first year so he was let off with a pass mark, but that won't be the case this year. His star recruit, Marshall, might put more bums on seats but what will really get Blues fans teeming through the turnstiles is good rugby and wins. It's been a long time since the Blues produced either on a consistent basis.

- NZ Herald

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