Patrick McKendry is a rugby and boxing writer for the Herald.

Rugby: West has chance to show his form

Damian McKenzie of the Chiefs looks on during the round six Super Rugby match. Photo / Getty Images
Damian McKenzie of the Chiefs looks on during the round six Super Rugby match. Photo / Getty Images

The news that the Blues tried to lure Damian McKenzie to Auckland from the Chiefs with the promise of the No 10 jersey will have done little to reassure Ihaia West of his future at the franchise, but the little playmaker must accept the uncertainty as a challenge rather than a burden.

West will be an important figure for the Blues in tomorrow morning's match against the Kings at Port Elizabeth. He will be relied upon to navigate his team around the park against what the form book and points table suggest are the worst team in the competition, but he mustn't attempt to do too much to prove he is the man for the job in the long term.

Coach Tana Umaga has stressed the need to play within a pattern rather than be carried away by individual flair at inappropriate moments. In that way he strikes as more conservative than his predecessor John Kirwan, but sticking to the basics - including exiting sensibly from their own half - should be enough to pave the way for a rare away victory for Umaga's team.

This is where West must stay in the moment rather than go for low-percentage plays which have the potential to backfire.

Regarded early in the season by Umaga as the Blues' best option at No 10, West's statistics show he is up there with the best first-fives in the New Zealand conference. There are flaws in his game - including his option taking under pressure and when his team are in the opposition's danger zone, and he has a tendency to catch and then run or pass, rather than run on to the ball - but he also has the capacity to surprise the defence with his pace.

Like the Blues as a whole, the 24-year-old must strive for greater consistency, although his goalkicking percentage is better than that of Aaron Cruden, Beauden Barrett and Richie Mo'unga. Lima Sopoaga leads the way here with 78 per cent.

The numbers suggest West is a relatively good defender. As mentioned, his attack needs work and while he makes breaks he doesn't run as far as his New Zealand rivals.

Most significantly, he has yet to make a try assist, whereas Cruden averages more than one try assist per match, a stunning statistic which, to be fair to West, also owes much to the way the Chiefs play and the number of tries they have scored this season - a whopping 45 at an average of five per match.

In weighing up the performances of the other New Zealand No 10s, Cruden and Barrett have been in superb form for the Chiefs and Hurricanes respectively, but Lima Sopoaga hasn't quite been the force of last year at the Highlanders.

McKenzie's statistics are skewed by the fact he is playing mainly at fullback. His roaming role allows him to run the back to defences and, conversely more of an opportunity to miss tackles, but he is clearly one of the best attacking weapons in the competition. His decision to stay in Hamilton rather than join the Blues is a blow to Umaga, but West is his incumbent, and, facing a run of three away matches starting with the Kings, he must show why he deserves to stay that way.

- NZ Herald

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