Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Gregor Paul: Tinkering Tana gets right team

Umaga makes a raft of changes again for Canes game but gets mix bang-on this time.
Blues playmaker Ihaia West's experience will be needed against the Hurricanes. Photo / Getty Images
Blues playmaker Ihaia West's experience will be needed against the Hurricanes. Photo / Getty Images

Another week of massive selection changes at the Blues, but this time coach Tana Umaga is sending out a side that looks like the right one to take on the Hurricanes.

This time the changes make sense - they are not about working towards an abstract goal of simply giving others a go. The big difference this week is that most of the seven changes have been driven by performance, or lack of.

There's still an element of some of the changes being preconceived - but for valid reasons. Bryn Hall and Ihaia West were always likely to return for this game.

Given their experience, combined with their form against the Highlanders, they established without doubt they are the premier inside pairing at the Super Rugby franchise. Umaga was presumably certain about that himself when he relegated them to the bench and his decision to start Billy Guyton and Matt McGahan was driven by his conviction he needed his second choice pairing to feel like they were a valued part of the set-up.

Right or wrong, almost regardless of how Guyton and McGahan played, they were always going to make way for Hall and West and it would be a surprise now if there isn't consistency of selection at halfback and first-five. Or rather, if changes are going to be made, they will be driven by injury or sustained loss of form.

The other predictable change - for the same reasons - was the return of James Parsons at hooker for Quentin MacDonald. The former is easily the best the Blues have, but again, Umaga felt the need to give MacDonald a greater sense of belonging.

Charlie Faumuina's return is part of a plan to build his workload gently and after two appearances off the bench, the time was right to start him.

Where Umaga has sent a message to his troops and reacted to the poor performance in Christchurch is the decision to drop Patrick Tuipulotu, Melani Nanai and Matt Duffie.

Umaga didn't sugar coat his decision regarding Tuipulotu - making it clear that the big lock didn't play well and that Steven Luatua and Akira Ioane have so they had to find a way to accommodate them both.

Luatua has history at lock so he was pushed forward, to make way for Ioane at No8 and in doing so, a message has been sent to the rest of the squad that Umaga won't shy away from making changes however big the reputation of the players.

Nanai was loose against the Crusaders and has paid the price and Duffie looked well out of his league so has suffered the same fate.

A superficial analysis could include that having made six changes after the first game and a further seven after the second, that Umaga has a haphazard, reactionary approach to selection.

That's not quite right, though. He has made more changes this week and yet it's hard to fault any of them.

Debate on this article is now closed.

- 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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