Rugby: Blues coach not about to press panic button

By Patrick McKendry

John Kirwan.
John Kirwan.

Blues coach Sir John Kirwan says there will be no selection shake-up following their Dunedin disappointment, but the spotlight will this week once again fall on the men vying for the No 10 jersey.

Chris Noakes, a first-five who impressed last season before suffering a serious neck injury, has played little rugby since and it showed against the Highlanders.

The decisiveness required to put his impressive outside backs on the front foot wasn't there, although he was done few favours by the at-times laboured delivery from halfback Piri Weepu, who was outshone by opposite Aaron Smith.

Benji Marshall's debut, in which he played the last quarter of the match at fullback, provided spark, and he would have been pleased with his work.

"When I came on I wanted to add a bit of spark and it was my job to provide that," Marshall said afterwards. "I tried to get my hands on the ball as much as I could and add to the team."

A defender-dragging run and inside flick pass which led to Francis Saili's try was Marshall at his best. His work when clearing out rucks was less decisive, but his commitment couldn't be faulted.

Kirwan said Noakes - who missed three shots at goal - was disappointed with his performance, but the coach seems prepared to keep faith in him.

"He's coming back into form - he hasn't played much," Kirwan said.

There seems little point in changing things too drastically, especially given the injury to second-five Saili and the team's second-half comeback, though Baden Kerr would have had serious claims to first-five against the Crusaders had he not suffered a cracked thumb in pre-season.

The Crusaders, too, have issues at first-five. With Dan Carter on sabbatical and Colin Slade injured, Tyler Bleyendaal got the nod at No 10 over Tom Taylor and missed five shots at goal in the 18-10 defeat to the Chiefs in Christchurch before being replaced by Taylor at halftime.

Kirwan will probably stick with Noakes, but whether Todd Blackadder does likewise with Bleyendaal is another matter.

Highlanders 29 (Aaron Smith, Malakai Fekitoa, Ben Smith, Patrick Osborne tries; Lima Sopoaga 3 cons, pen)

Blues 21 (Francis Saili, Angus Ta'avao, Patrick Tuipulotu tries; Chris Noakes 3 cons). Halftime: 24-0.

- NZ Herald

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