Patrick McKendry

Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

Rugby: The pivotal battle

'Mission impossible' against the Chiefs will be a tough test for the Blues' new signing.

Aaron Cruden of the Chiefs and Ihaia West of the Blues rugby team. Photos / Getty Images
Aaron Cruden of the Chiefs and Ihaia West of the Blues rugby team. Photos / Getty Images

The first match in which Blues first-five Ihaia West plays with his short-term future secured could also be the one in which he feels the most pressure - a clash against a desperate Chiefs at Eden Park with his own team still hoping to cash in on the slimmest of playoffs chances.

He will also be marking Aaron Cruden, an All Black who plays second fiddle only to Dan Carter. Cruden was good in the Chiefs' 24-16 victory over the Hurricanes last weekend which they needed to keep their hopes alive; West didn't disgrace himself in the Blues' 21-13 loss to the Crusaders in Christchurch, but he will want to be more assertive on attack and defence this Friday night.

He made only four successful tackles at AMI Stadium, but, more significantly, missed three.

Cruden made 12 without a single miss in Hamilton and was one of his team's most dangerous attacking threats. West preferred to pass rather than take on the Crusaders' defence.

Blues coach Sir John Kirwan believes his team still have a chance of sneaking into the top six. To do so, they will have to beat the Chiefs by at least 38 points. They are unbeaten at their fortress this season, but that margin of victory against a Chiefs team with Cruden at the helm and loose forward Tanerau Latimer possibly playing his last game would be most unlikely.

This week's announcement that the Blues had secured 22-year-old West for two seasons was confirmation that they had given up on securing Hurricane Beauden Barrett.

West was holding off signing until he was sure of the future landscape and now that he has signed, he might find expectations will rise.

The Hawkes Bay player, who missed out on a contract at the start of the season and joined the Blues halfway through as cover for the injured Baden Kerr and Chris Noakes, made his debut in the impressive victory over the Reds at Eden Park and immediately looked at home, scoring a try from 50m. He was a substitute the next two matches, losses to the Chiefs and Sharks, before starting in the victory over the Hurricanes and looking good against rival No 10 Barrett.

West links well with Ma'a Nonu because of his inventiveness with the ball, and the All Blacks midfielder looks a happier man playing alongside him than Simon Hickey.

But unfortunately for West and the Blues, Nonu appears set to move back to the Hurricanes.

Kirwan has been reluctant to talk about Nonu or Barrett, preferring to concentrate on West's signing and what will probably be his team's final match of the season.

"He's incredibly relaxed under pressure and has a great temperament that you need in a 10," Kirwan said of West. "Nothing seems to faze him; he came into the team midway through the year but it was like he'd been here five years."

As the Blues chase a victory akin to mission impossible, the temperament of the young man likely to be Kirwan's first-choice No 10 next season could be tested to the limit.

- APNZ

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