Patrick McKendry

Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

Rugby: Piutau's power big threat to Chiefs

Kirwan's side has a settled look in the backline - something the defending champions certainly don't have.

Charles Piutau.
Charles Piutau.

As Ma'a Nonu continues to attract the attention of defenders everywhere, few of his teammates are better placed to take advantage than the irrepressible Charles Piutau, the only player to have appeared in every minute for the Blues this season.

Piutau made a rare foray into the midfield in the final minutes of the 44-14 victory over the Reds at Eden Park, but is so important as an attacking threat at the back for John Kirwan's team that the coach is wary about making the move more permanent in the wake of the long-term injuries to Francis Saili and Jackson Willison.

Piutau, 22, is by far the biggest offensive menace at the Blues, and the Chiefs would do well to carefully consider how they will defend against him at New Plymouth's Yarrow Stadium on Friday.

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Highlanders counterpart Ben Smith has similar numbers, according to the Rugby Herald stats centre, but Piutau has been more elusive this season than even the All Black nicknamed "The Ghost".

Incumbent All Blacks fullback Israel Dagg's numbers probably haven't been helped by the Crusaders' more conservative style. Dagg's carries and average metres gained are slightly down on his New Zealand rivals, but his "defenders beaten" column is a long way behind.

Dagg is improving in every match after a traditionally slow start to the season. It is a curve normally followed by Nonu, but not this year, and it is that form which is making the Blues' back three of Piutau, Frank Halai and Lolagi Visinia, a 21-year-old who is making the most of his chances, much more dangerous.

After the victory over the Reds, in which the Blues scored five tries, Kirwan referred to his trio as "really starting to show some stuff" and it is here that his side should have an edge over the Chiefs.

The backline, apart from the injuries at centre, has a settled look - their Chiefs counterparts do not. Tim Nanai-Williams played on the right wing in the big loss to the Brumbies in Canberra a fortnight ago, then found himself at fullback in the 38-8 victory over the Lions at Waikato Stadium, a match notable for the home side's nervous start as much as their return to winning ways. Tom Marshall moved from fullback to second-five. James Lowe replaced Asaeli Tikoirotuma on the left wing in Hamilton.

If Kirwan's forwards can bring their form of the past fortnight to New Plymouth - and admittedly Australian teams the Waratahs and Reds are likely to offer less of a contest than the Chiefs - then Piutau, the razor-sharp arrowhead of the Blues' back three, must take advantage.

More than halfway through the competition, this will be the Blues' first match against the defending champions. A victory would be some way to break their losing streak away from home and wouldn't do any harm for Piutau's All Blacks claims next month.

- NZ Herald

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