Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

Rugby: Tuipulotu demotion sends message

Patrick Tuipulotu's relegation to the bench will send a message to the rest of the Blues. Photo / Getty
Patrick Tuipulotu's relegation to the bench will send a message to the rest of the Blues. Photo / Getty

Amid all the changes to his Blues team made by Tana Umaga after the defeat to the Crusaders one in particular should put all his men on notice.

Patrick Tuipulotu had a quiet game by his standards in the 28-13 loss in Christchurch, a match in which the Blues lurched from one set piece disaster to another, and he has paid the price with a demotion to the reserves against the Hurricanes at Eden Park on Friday.

There was no softening of the blow by Umaga, either, when he explained his decision to the media. The new Blues coach made it clear that Tuipulotu, who played 56 minutes at AMI Stadium before being replaced by Akira Ioane, simply wasn't good enough.

If it wasn't already, the message would have been received loud and clear by Tuipulotu and his teammates that below-par performances will not be tolerated.

"It's about rewarding performance," Umaga said. "Patrick would be the first to say that he didn't play his best game [against the Crusaders] and it's tough for Pat because he hasn't had a lot of rugby in the last 12 months and has played every game for us [this season].

"We know what we're going to get with Pat coming off the bench now - a motivated Patrick is good for us."

The Hurricanes might do well to look carefully at who they are running into at Eden Park in the second half because Tuipulotu, a man mountain who played seven tests for the All Blacks in 2014 and underwent double hip surgery last year, will want to do some damage after being told he didn't measure up.

The demotion of the powerful 23-year-old, one of his team's stars in the round one win over the Highlanders, is one of nine changes made by Umaga. The return of playmakers Ihaia West and Bryn Hall are likely to help with the Blues' composure and Umaga has also quickly moved to attempt to get Rene Ranger more possession by naming him on the right wing.

"Rene is coming back from a long lay-off," Umaga said. "At centre he hasn't been getting the touches that he would like or we would like. With our game plan the way it is and our wings getting a lot of touches of the ball, that's the thinking behind it. Rene Ranger getting the ball in his hands is good for us and good for him."

Apart from a vastly improved performance from his pack, Umaga will also be hoping for reactions when the Hurricanes get their attack going, admitting his team didn't cope with the pressure the Crusaders exerted.

"At stages we will be put under pressure and it's how we deal with the pressure on the field," he said. "It's great to be able to look at that after the game but it's about how we make the shifts on the field [which is important]. We've been working hard at that."

The Blues team to play the Hurricanes at Eden Park on Friday, kick-off 7.35pm:

Lolagi Visinia, Rene Ranger, Male Sa'u, George Moala, Tevita Li, Ihaia West, Bryn Hall, Akira Ioane, Blake Gibson, Jerome Kaino (c), Josh Bekhuis, Steven Luatua, Charlie Faumuina, James Parsons, Ofa Tu'ungafasi. Reserves: Quentin MacDonald, Nic Mayhew, Sione Mafileo, Patrick Tuipulotu, Kara Pryor, Billy Guyton, Matt McGahan, Melani Nanai.

- NZ Herald

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