Patrick McKendry

Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

Rugby: Blues find rhythm with Kaino and Nonu

Dynamic duo add harder edge and experience to young team.

Being able to call on the experience and work ethic of Jerome Kaino has already paid dividends for the Blues. Photo / Getty Images
Being able to call on the experience and work ethic of Jerome Kaino has already paid dividends for the Blues. Photo / Getty Images

Something is happening at the Blues and Jerome Kaino and Ma'a Nonu are at the forefront of the revolution.

They have been proven performers for the All Blacks over many years so their introduction in the victory over the Cheetahs two weeks ago was likely to lead to a lift in on-field quality - Nonu's poor Super Rugby form of the past few years notwithstanding - but it's what the pair offer during the week which is just as important as what they do on game day.

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After successive losses in South Africa to the Bulls and Lions, the Blues were at a crossroads. Another loss, against the inconsistent Cheetahs at Eden Park, would have raised questions about their credentials. But, travel weariness pushed aside, they stuttered to a win before their impressively clinical victory over the Highlanders a week later. Even if John Kirwan's men fail to get a result in Canberra against the Brumbies tonight, his team appears to be on the right track and that lift in consistency and intensity owes much to Kaino and Nonu.

The soft early efforts in matches have gone and having Kaino and Nonu, two notoriously hard trainers, set the standard is a huge boost. It's probably no coincidence that their involvement in contact for the first time after the team's return from South Africa before the Cheetahs match resulted in one of their team's more intense sessions. On the Thursday before the match, wing Frank Halai was flattened and stayed down for several minutes during a 15-on-15 game notable for its intensity. First-five Simon Hickey limped afterwards, an ice pack on a calf knock.

Kirwan's chopping and changing early this season was an attempt to provide competition for places but it's Kaino and Nonu who have taken it to a new level. The lift in performance of loose forwards Peter Saili and Steven Luatua and midfielder Jackson Willison has been noticeable.

Willison, who will likely return to action from knee and rib problems after next weekend's bye, explained why.

"It's in the midfield but it's also in the whole team where we are getting that competition. It's starting to show at training. The intensity has picked up a bit. It's a healthy feeling because it's leading up to our games and we're starting these games with a bit more intensity."

The Blues have many role models - veteran hooker Keven Mealamu, flanker and captain Luke Braid, experienced lock Tom Donnelly - but it's easy to see how the introduction of Kaino and Nonu have made them exponentially better.

Luatua, 22, is seen as a potential leader but he's still young and Kaino will have taken some of that pressure off his shoulders. Halai, Francis Saili, Charles Piutau, Tevita Li and George Moala are young backs with potential. It's easy to see how a focused and engaged Nonu can push the right buttons for them. Nonu is robust but he is also one of the most skilful in the Blues and All Blacks.

With Kaino and Nonu on board, the Blues are going places.

- NZ Herald

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