Patrick McKendry is a rugby and boxing writer for the Herald.

Rugby: Blues change gears for South Africa trip

On back of team's first win, Kirwan plans to fine-tune starting lineup for Bulls and Lions matches to keep players on the boil.

Blues winger Tevita Li was one of the players who impressed with his flair in the game against the Crusaders at Eden Park on Friday. Photo / Richard Robinson
Blues winger Tevita Li was one of the players who impressed with his flair in the game against the Crusaders at Eden Park on Friday. Photo / Richard Robinson

It's early days and there are still flaws in their game, most notably their lineout which was put under severe pressure by the Crusaders, but the Blues showed in their demolition at Eden Park that they have the firepower to threaten anyone.

The challenge for Sir John Kirwan and Co will be to keep finding that spark than enabled them to go from 17-3 down to 32-17 ahead against Todd Blackadder's team.

With Kirwan suggesting there will be selection changes during their South African trip in which they play the Bulls next Sunday morning NZT, and the Lions a week later, he must strike a fine balance of altering the components of the machine without spoiling the end product.


All Blacks front rowers Tony Woodcock and Keven Mealamu are obvious candidates for starting spots at Loftus Versfeld after providing a physical and mental boost to their team when taking the field after halftime against the Crusaders.

Kirwan spoke of the need to protect 20-year-old first-five Simon Hickey, a player who appears to have plenty of skill to go with his mental and physical toughness.

Whether that means a rest for Hickey this weekend remains to be seen but it would be interesting to see if he could progress his game against a Bulls team which isn't the force of old.

Benji Marshall, not used against the Crusaders, should also expect game time.

Kirwan, in fine form himself after signing a two-year extension to his contract during the week and watching his team perform the mother of all comebacks, urged caution regarding Hickey, and spoke of the impending African challenge.

There is no doubt that there is excitment in the camp, though, and that has the potential to manifest itself into another freewheeling display.

"We just need to tough it out," Kirwan said.

"If we could get back to the Cheetahs [at Eden Park on March 22] with 10 or 12 points after our Africa trip then you're in pretty good shape.

"This is one win, it's week two, it's a long competition. I need to have the courage to rest Braidy [captain Luke Braid] even if I need to because it's a high attrition rate.

"In Africa we need to keep making those changes - not a lot - but a couple of changes to keep the team fresh and always bubbling."

Kirwan's youthful backline isn't likely to have a problem coming to the boil. Wings Tevita Li and Frank Halai, midfielders Jackson Willison and George Moala, fullback Charles Piutau, first-five Hickey - they played the final 46 minutes against the Crusaders with flair and freedom. Kirwan is keen on individuals expressing themselves and they certainly did that.

Skipper Braid, though, also preached caution, saying an African trip deserved respect.

There will be more of an emphasis on forward play there - but the tendency of South African teams to kick the ball away could play into the Blues' hands.

"You have to change your mindset when you play the Africans, it's a completely different style," he said.

"Some of the boys, it's their first year in Super Rugby and they're going to go over to Africa and think 'this is completely to different to playing two New Zealand teams'.

"They need to go over there and adapt."

With Jerome Kaino and Ma'a Nonu preparing themselves to make their season's start against the Cheetahs, the Blues and Kirwan have every right to be happy.

Blues' next three games


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