Patrick McKendry

Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

Rugby: Blues giving Kaino time to find his feet

Kaino will start on the blindside flank against the Highlanders at Eden Park tonight. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Kaino will start on the blindside flank against the Highlanders at Eden Park tonight. Photo / Brett Phibbs

Jerome Kaino is back in the No 6 jersey, a position in which he has terrorised ball carriers all over the world when representing the All Blacks, but Blues' forwards coach Mick Byrne has warned against expecting too much too soon.

Byrne, who also works with the All Blacks, acknowledged Kaino was one of the best players in the world when he left New Zealand rugby for Japan after the 2011 World Cup but added the 30-year-old must be given time to reintegrate himself back into the Blues.

Kaino, who played 27 minutes off the reserves bench against the Cheetahs last weekend, will start on the blindside flank against the Highlanders at Eden Park tonight, with Steven Luatua moving to No 8. Skipper Luke Braid retains his place on the openside.

Peter Saili, a good performer at No 8 against the Cheetahs, was named on the reserves bench but he was replaced yesterday by Brendon O'Connor due to a sprained foot.

Asked if he was wary of placing too much pressure on Kaino, the matter of fact Byrne replied, "Yes, absolutely. Jerome is a full professional, he knows what he needs to do. The key for us is that he continues to develop. There's no question what he's going to bring. He has done that; during the two weeks we were in South Africa he spent a lot of time getting up to speed. Last week was his first week with us and it was a short one as we travelled back. This week has been a real good full week for us and he's in good shape.

"Jerome is an abrasive player," Byrne added.

"When he left here in 2011 he was probably one of the best in the world at being that abrasive player. I'm just looking forward to him settling in and getting comfortable in our system.

"Once he gets clarity he can go at 100 miles an hour."

The Blues' malfunctioning set piece has been a concern this season — the 67 per cent scrum success and 79 per cent lineout success among the lowest in the competition, but Byrne said he was happy with how his side was progressing. He believed improvements were being made every week but conceded the Blues were taking time to adjust to the new scrum engagement calls.

And although Luatua was far and away the most used lineout catcher (22 takes, the next best is lock Tom Donnelly with 11), Byrne said he was comfortable with the 22-year-old's workload in this area.

Byrne pointed to Brumbies loose forward Ben Mowen (28 takes) as an example.

"There's reasons why it happens. Locks must catch the ball but when you've got loose forwards as good as Ben Mowen or Steven, then you use them."

In their two losses to the Bulls and Lions in South Africa, the Blues appeared a little passive in contact at times. Luatua and Saili, two direct runners, improved their team's performance in this area against the Cheetahs, with Byrne saying that go-forward had been a big focus.

"When we're getting good gain line, we're getting good quick ball. The two go hand in hand so we've been working on that."

- APNZ

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