Patrick McKendry

Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

Rugby: Cron's scrum focus timely for the Blues

Lineout also needs improvement if potent backline is to show its potential.

Blues player Jerome Kaino awaits reintegration into the forward pack, possibly at No 8.  Photo / Brett Phibbs
Blues player Jerome Kaino awaits reintegration into the forward pack, possibly at No 8. Photo / Brett Phibbs

The Blues have been the beneficiaries of a timely visit from All Blacks' scrum coach Mike Cron as they prepare to avenge their week one defeat to the Highlanders.

Cron has been working with Sir John Kirwan's pack this week as part of his brief to help all of New Zealand's franchises. So, while his visit is not the result of an SOS following the Blues' close-run victory over the Cheetahs, a match in which their set piece was again put under severe pressure, it should serve to focus more attention on the improvements their forwards have to make against a Highlanders' team who have their own set piece problems.

The Rugby Herald's Stats Centre indicates the Blues have by far the worst performing scrum in the competition with a 67 per cent success rate. Kirwan's thoughts on the competition's scrum issues have been well documented but there is no doubt his players, and not just the referees, have to take responsibility.

Veteran Tony Woodcock and the improving Charlie Faumuina are among the best props in the country - are they getting an acceptable amount of power from the other Blues' forwards? That wattage and the combinations which must provide it would have been one of the issues on Cron's agenda. Re-integrating Jerome Kaino, possibly at No 8, will be another.

The lineout is another area of concern for the Blues - a low success rate (79 per cent) combined with the fact Steven Luatua is by far their most used option.

However, one positive this week is that they will play a team with a worse lineout than theirs - the Highlanders have a lineout success rate of 78 per cent. The Chiefs' shonky display in their defeat to the Force in Perth has contrived to lower their success rate to 70 per cent - by far the worst in the competition.

If last week was about the effort Kirwan said was lacking in the defeats to the Bulls and Lions in South Africa, this week is about finesse and how they can provide opportunities for a backline likely to be reshuffled slightly with the return of All Blacks midfielder Ma'a Nonu.

There was a slight disconnection in the midfield against the Cheetahs once Nonu came off the reserves bench and pushed Jackson Willison to centre, but Kirwan was impressed with the latter, who kicked for space intelligently and must be confident of another start at Eden Park on Saturday night. George Moala, more of a finisher than a creator on attack, could find himself on the left wing in place of Tevita Li, with Frank Halai on the other and Charles Piutau at the back.

With Simon Hickey directing things, it is an impressive backline with potential to create serious problems from broken play, a traditional strength of the Blues.

The Blues are desperate to remain second in the New Zealand conference ahead of the third-placed Highlanders and they need only to look at their defeat in Dunedin last month to see how dangerous Jamie Joseph's men can be.

"They skunked us down there," Kirwan said. "It's a big night for us [on Saturday] and it's a big night for how the comp is situated from a points point of view."APNZ

- APNZ

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