Justin Marshall is a former All Blacks halfback and current columnist for the New Zealand Herald

Justin Marshall: Blues need urgent midfield fix

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Rene ranger of the Blues. Photo / Getty Images.
Rene ranger of the Blues. Photo / Getty Images.

Before the season began, I thought that if the Blues were going to piece together a competitive season, the issue they had to get right was finding consistency of performance in their halves. That felt like it was going to be the key and to a greater extent, they have done that.

Bryn Hall and Ihaia West have been good and brought a level of control and benefited from consistency of selection.

One area that I didn't see as a potential problem was the midfield. I felt that they had a number of players who could deliver and that they also had some good outside backs. If they could get control at No 9 and No 10, they would have the backline functioning well, that's how I saw it.

The midfield never entered my thought process as a potential problem but it has been.

They haven't found the synergy there and it is causing coach Tana Umaga a few headaches as he looks for the answers.

And he needs to find those answers quickly as I think the Blues' season depends on getting the right combination and performance in this critical area of the field.

If you look at what a player like Conrad Smith brought to both the Hurricanes and All Blacks, you can see the importance of what a good midfielder brings in terms of leadership, organisation and impact. He was the glue that solidified the All Blacks backline and the Blues need to find a similar sort of rock either at second-five or centre. They need to be able to pick a settled and established combination to get the best out of a group of players that have obvious talent and potential.

To my eye, Rene Ranger hasn't recovered the form he was in before he left for Europe and I wonder if he would be benefit from shifting to the wing. I thought Ranger was brilliant on the wing before he left in 2013 and I think it suits him having the freedom to roam. He can be devastating popping up at first receiver, second receiver or holding his width and maybe a return to the wing, where he might be able to get the ball in a bit of space, would help him build his confidence and form.

Playing in the midfield, there has to be a greater adherence to holding your position and developing position-specific skills. Ranger is a spontaneous player and being on the wing affords him greater opportunity to get involved as he reads the game.

If Ranger was pushed out one berth to the wing, I'd like to see George Moala go in the same direction and play at centre. The Blues have used him in a direct capacity and he hasn't been able to operate in space. Moala is another converted wing and he has come in a fair bit to play at second-five.

The final piece in this scenario would be to select a second-five with first-five passing skills - which is why I'm interested to see how Piers Francis goes against the Jaguares.

As a former centre I know that Tana appreciates the value and importance of a good midfield combination and he'll be desperate to find an answer to that problem.

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Justin Marshall is a former All Blacks halfback and current columnist for the New Zealand Herald

Justin Marshall played 81 test matches for the All Blacks, including four as captain. The halfback made his debut in 1995 against France and ended his career 10 years later with a series sweep over the British and Irish Lions. He won five Super Rugby titles with the Crusaders, playing 105 games for the franchise. He commentates for Sky Television.

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