Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Rugby: Mistakes guide Blues on selection

Blues coach Tana Umaga admitted to mistakes last year. Photo / Michael Cunningham
Blues coach Tana Umaga admitted to mistakes last year. Photo / Michael Cunningham

The Blues' opening win said plenty about the coaching credentials of Tana Umaga. The team the Blues have picked to play the Chiefs in their next game, says much more.

Having paid the price last year for making wholesale changes after an opening season win, Blues coach Tana Umaga has stuck his hand up and suggested that was a mistake. Honesty is a strong quality to carry through a season as is the oft undervalued ability to learn from previous mistakes.

A year on he is a year wiser and while there was a raft of good players available this week that weren't last, he has picked the same starting XV that played in Melbourne.

They delivered so they have been rewarded and the returning cavalry has been put on the bench. It's a smart move all round as it not only rewards the men who played so well in Melbourne, it instils confidence that Umaga is learning on the job.

"We didn't go so well that second time [last year] so I suppose we are that little bit more aware," Umaga said. "I think I know the group a lot better than I did last year. Last year I was trying to find out who I have got and what they can do at this level. So I suppose we learned a lot and I know a lot more about the players."

What his selection also does is give the Blues, maybe most importantly, the chance to have an 80-minute crack at the Chiefs in Hamilton.

They have six All Blacks on their bench, with the two big ticket items being Patrick Tuipulotu and Jerome Kaino. Between those two, Charlie Faumuina, George Moala and Rene Ranger they have ample ball carrying power to blow the game open in the dying minutes.

It's perhaps a sign of the new found confidence the Blues have in their depth that they are willing to hold so much back for a late assault, hoping that they will still be right in the hunt come the final quarter.

Tuipulotu, despite the uncertainty about his playing future over the summer as a result of initially failing a drugs test only for his B-sample to test negative, kept himself in good shape. He's spent the last few weeks honing his sharpness with the team and is in such good shape, both physically and mentally, that Umaga felt he was ready to jump straight on to the bench rather than return via the Development XV.

Kaino may be a touch undercooked having been set back by the death of Sione Lauaki, but should have a good 25 minutes in his legs and lungs.

"That's what we are looking for and the group that went to Melbourne brought good energy and the All Blacks are trying to get into their groove and get game time for them," Umaga said.

"I think it goes without saying how intense these games [local derbies] are. That first game between the Chiefs and Highlanders looked pretty brutal so nothing has changed from last year. So we have to step up. Although we got a good win it was a bit rusty and they exposed a few things that we have to fix otherwise a Chiefs outfit that is very good at exploiting holes on counter attack will mean we get done."

- NZ Herald

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