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

Justin Marshall: Umaga's boys are banishing the blues

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Watching the Blues play the Crusaders at Eden Park on Saturday, the character and promise within Tana Umaga's team was obvious. Photo / Getty Images
Watching the Blues play the Crusaders at Eden Park on Saturday, the character and promise within Tana Umaga's team was obvious. Photo / Getty Images

Watching the Blues play the Crusaders at Eden Park on Saturday, the character and promise within Tana Umaga's team was obvious.

There is growth. The inconsistencies of past Blues teams is dissipating. You're always going to have fluctuations of form and performance but good teams limit those.

You can see that some of the players understand the culture Umaga and the staff are building. You can see it in their body language and the way they go about rectifying mistakes.

Their big defeat to the Lions at Ellis Park was a harsh lesson and they rightly copped criticism for it. That can affect the confidence within the camp but it looks like they've regrouped well.

They're not where the Crusaders are and that's why they lost. The Crusaders are a side which have had Todd Blackadder as coach for eight years and the core group has been together a long time. The tough moments were won by the Crusaders and that was the difference.

But that's not to say the Blues weren't tough. Their defence was outstanding. They just need to find a game plan which suits their players.

They were guilty of letting the Crusaders back in the game through their kicking strategy which gave the ball to the visitors and effectively said: "You come at us."

Was it the Crusaders' best performance of the season? No, but they were pushed hard by the Blues and if the Auckland-based franchise played like that against teams outside the top six, they probably would have won. That should be the benchmark for them to realising their true potential because there is plenty of that among their players.

All Blacks squad

There has been speculation for a long time about who would replace some of the greats of All Black rugby. With Keven Mealamu, Richie McCaw, Tony Woodcock, Dan Carter, Conrad Smith and Ma'a Nonu missing, that's about 750 test caps gone.

But what must be warming the hearts of the selectors is how well the current All Blacks are playing because it gives the side a confident look. That means the void is not so great. In fact, on paper, this squad should worry the rest of the rugby world.

It's a team full of form players and established All Blacks who have won World Cups. There weren't any bolters as such, but Elliot Dixon, Liam Squire and Damian McKenzie's selections are a testament to their great form.

There are a few unlucky ones, such as Matt Todd, Brad Weber and Jordan Taufua, for example. And that's why New Zealand rugby is so good. Those players would probably make any other team in the world.

Debate on this article is now closed.

- NZ Herald

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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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