Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Tana Umaga, what are you doing?

Fans hope there's method to the madness after shock changes.
Tana Umaga may yet be proven right over six changes for the Blues' next game. Photo / Getty Images
Tana Umaga may yet be proven right over six changes for the Blues' next game. Photo / Getty Images

There was rising optimism about the track the Blues were following under coach Tana Umaga and then, with one monumentally hard to understand decision to change his playmakers, thoughts of the bad old days have resurfaced.

Random and erratic decisions were the hallmark of the Pat Lam era and then, despite promising change, they became the only consistent theme in the John Kirwan regime.

Umaga, so astute, measured, controlled and thoughtful up until now, has genuinely surprised by making personnel changes that are driven by this dreaded fad of providing others with opportunity. Football teams have always been meritocracies and history shows that those who don't honour that, tend to fall apart.

Simple works - find the best players in a specific position and keep picking them if they keep delivering. Why complicate the issue?

What evidence is there that changing for the sake of "development", "growth" and "opportunity" has any value in professional sport?

Umaga may yet be proven right with his decision to make six changes but given his adherence to common sense and keeping things simple, he will have alarmed a fan base that was growing in hope.

Performance has only driven some of the frustration at the Blues - the inability to understand the coaching philosophy has added to the bafflement and it's here that Umaga has to be wary.

No one was expecting anything other than a big rubber stamp to come down on all those names who battled so gamely last week.

Certainly the last place it felt like there was any need to make changes was in the play-making roles.

Jersey numbers nine and 10 have been such a problem for the Blues for such a long time that Eden Park was almost euphoric at the control, discipline and creativity delivered by Bryn Hall and Ihaia West.

But having played about as well as they ever have, Hall and West have been relegated to the bench - making way for Bully Guyton at halfback and Matt McGahan at first-five.

The rationale behind the change is that Umaga knows he's going to have to use the full depth of his squad in what will be a long, tough, grind of a season and wants to give the likes of McGahan and Guyton an early taste so they can get themselves up to speed. That's the same reason why Quentin McDonald starts at hooker instead of James Parsons and to some extent there is method to this madness.

The demands of the current game are such that no halfback or hooker goes for 80 minutes -- and many coaches like to bring on a new first-five later in the piece to inject a bit of dynamism.

West, Hall, Guyton and McGahan have to be interchangeable but for many Blues followers, it would be preferable if there was just method and not madness.

Find the best players and keep picking them. Use the bench as a means to develop the next tier. That's what works for the best teams.

Consistency of selection in the key decision-making role was the key to the Chiefs' success in 2012 and 2013. Aaron Cruden played almost every minute of every game -- and the Chiefs won back-to-back titles.

In 2014, the Crusaders played Colin Slade at No10 for nearly all of the season and they were one bad refereeing decision away from winning. And last year the Highlanders relied almost exclusively on Aaron Smith and Lima Sopoaga to steer them to the championship.

- NZ Herald

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Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer. He has written several books on rugby including the Reign of King Henry, Black Obsession and For the Love of the Game.

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