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

Rugby: Storming wing Matt Duffie soaring for Blues

Matt Duffie scored two tries against the Brumbies and is making an impression at the Blues. Photo / Getty Images
Matt Duffie scored two tries against the Brumbies and is making an impression at the Blues. Photo / Getty Images

After a performance for the Blues which featured two tries and more evidence of a vertical leap straight out of Australian Rules, a sport he used to play, wing Matt Duffie could have been speaking about himself when he summed up his team's effort.

"That performance was very close for a few weeks, or a few months, really," Duffie said. "We knew we could play like that. It's just nice to back ourselves, do what we do in training, and just enjoy our footy."

Duffie, the former St Kentigern College student who returned to Auckland to play for the Blues this season after seven years under coach Craig Bellamy at NRL club the Melbourne Storm, is thriving with the Blues as they hit another gear, albeit at the wrong end of the season.

In only his sixth game for Tana Umaga's team, Duffie, 25, was excellent against the Brumbies in the comprehensive 40-15 thrashing at Eden Park on Friday night. His performance hit the heights of his previous efforts against the Hurricanes in Wellington, where he outplayed All Black opposite Julian Savea, particularly in the air, and it's that ability to time his jump and reclaim possession which is setting him apart.

Duffie didn't have a lot of joy at fullback at the start of the season, perhaps not surprisingly given the greater complexity of the position. He impressed in pre-season, but his sole claim to the highlights reels once the competition began was when he was sent flying by Crusaders giant Nemani Nadolo in Christchurch in the second round.

However, his awareness and handling skills make him a good fit for the No14 jersey and he is building an excellent combination with fullback Melani Nanai as the Blues show signs of improvement under Umaga.

"It has definitely been a challenging season, but nothing that I didn't expect," he said. "I didn't necessarily think I'd be able to waltz on in here and start for a Super Rugby side like the Blues. I knew there were going to be hard times. Pre-season is a whole different beast and I had it in perspective, I guess It's nice to be playing consistently."

A former 200m and 400m runner as a schoolboy, Duffie played AFL and volleyball as a youngster, two sports which helped him hone his skills in the air.

"I guess it was a point of difference I had in rugby league and it probably gave me a foot in when I first started [in Super Rugby].

"I'm not a winger that's going to run through guys like a Julian Savea or a Nemani Nadolo, so I have to have something different. It's something I learned in high school, playing AFL in Auckland, and I really loved my volleyball growing up so that was another thing [which helped]."

Duffie, part of a backline which has gone to a new level since the June international break, with Nanai, Ihaia West, Piers Francis, Male Sa'u and Tevita Li all playing with a new confidence and purpose, has signed for North Harbour for the next two seasons and has another year on his Blues contract.

His next rugby assignment is against the Waratahs at Eden Park on Friday, a probable match-up with Israel Folau, one of the best exponents under the high ball in any code. It is a testament to Duffie's form that the home side will be favoured to beat a Tahs team whose playoffs hopes are hanging by a thread.

- NZ Herald

Get the news delivered straight to your inbox

Receive the day’s news, sport and entertainment in our daily email newsletter

SIGN UP NOW
Stats provided by

© Copyright 2017, NZME. Publishing Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production bpcf05 at 29 Apr 2017 05:29:33 Processing Time: 406ms