Patrick McKendry

Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

Rugby: West in good position to stake more lasting claim

John Kirwan says Ihaia West has 'come on and done everything asked of him'. Photo / Getty Images
John Kirwan says Ihaia West has 'come on and done everything asked of him'. Photo / Getty Images

Ihaia West could be the next roll of the dice for the Blues as they seek a first five-eighths with the attacking instincts to ignite their backline for Saturday's match against the Hurricanes and beyond.

If West does take over the No10 jersey from Simon Hickey at Eden Park, and all signs are pointing that way, one Blues player in particular is likely to feel the benefit of the 22-year-old's eye for a gap and ability to trouble opposition defences.

Ma'a Nonu cut a frustrated figure alongside Hickey during the 29-23 loss to the Sharks at Albany. Relied upon by his team to break the advantage line, Nonu was forced to do so from a standing start and with several defenders in his face as Hickey stood deep and effectively shifted the pressure his way.

The All Blacks midfielder looked more comfortable once West took the field for the final 30 minutes and that could be the combination John Kirwan turns to as he seeks to get the better of a Hurricanes' line-up which is being superbly led by All Black first-five hopeful Beauden Barrett.

Kirwan revealed little of his plans yesterday, but it is clear the search for a solution to his first-five problem is continuing. Former Highlander and Crusader Dan Bowden will come into the mix next season on his return from Europe, but West could stake a big claim over the remaining four games of the Blues' season.

"He's certainly putting pressure on, he's come on and done everything asked of him," Kirwan said of West. "We're losing Chris Noakes [London Irish] and Jackson Willison [Grenoble] and they've got over 100 games' experience. If you look at our side we lack a bit of experience and Dan gives us a bit of comfort.

"We're really happy with the way Simon and Ihaia are going. We're happy we've got someone like Dan so that's money in the bank.

"We'll be looking in a month's time at what we're doing but as far as I'm concerned the guys that we've got currently and with Dan coming home we're pretty solid for next year."

Kirwan said he hadn't spoken to Barrett again about a move north after chasing him last year. After the disaster of the Benji Marshall experiment, Kirwan might be better to settle on the trio of West, Hickey and Bowden rather than cast the net any wider.

On reflecting on another season of disappointment, Kirwan, who said he hadn't quite given up hope of making the playoffs yet, picked the 39-36 defeat to the Lions in Johannesburg as the most galling.

"The Lions game probably is the game that upsets me the most. If we had won that game, and we should have won it, we would be on 30-31 points and still in the mix. That has put us under pressure for most of the season. But we've just got to win the next four games."

Blues first-fives in 2013

Simon Hickey
Benji Marshall
Chris Noakes
Ihaia West
Baden Kerr (pre-season)
Matt McGahon (pre-season).

- APNZ

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