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

Rugby: Reliable Collins stays on track at fullback

Michael Collins had investigated a move to the United Kingdom but an offer left the 23-year-old with an easy decision. Photo / photosport
Michael Collins had investigated a move to the United Kingdom but an offer left the 23-year-old with an easy decision. Photo / photosport

Michael Collins, the Otago fullback who has brought organisation and communication to the Blues in his debut Super Rugby season, has a sense of timing off the field as well.

After not hearing from any franchise last year, Collins had investigated a move to the United Kingdom but a call and offer from Blues coach Tana Umaga on deadline day for the Northern Hemisphere clubs left the 23-year-old with an easy decision.

Collins, who has a Welsh grandfather and English mother, played for Llanelli Scarlets in the Pro 12 competition last year, but a chance to play Super Rugby was too good to miss.

Now the Queenstown man is on the brink of his third start in the No15 jersey in three weeks, his reliability at the back giving him the nod ahead of players such as Melanai Nanai, who has been moved to the bench for the match against the Highlanders at Eden Park on Saturday.

Collins, preparing to come up against several of his Otago teammates, has settled quickly at this level and offers Umaga a point of difference - a steadying influence in a backline including the attacking talents of Rieko Ioane, Rene Ranger and George Moala.

"Tana is big on his core roles," Collins said. "If you execute those, then the team is going to do well. That's the difference at this level of rugby. If you can do your job, you know the other guys on the team will do theirs.

"If I can bring that organisation, that communication, if I can help that way as well as doing my job as a No15, I think that's what he's looking for.

"It makes my job easier," he said of a Blues attack which will again be led by halfback Augustine Pulu and first-five Ihaia West.

"I enjoy having a crack [on attack], but we've got guys like Rieko, Melanai and Duff [Matt Duffie] and Ranger and George, the list goes on. We're fortunate there, and the longer we play together, the better we'll be."

A concussion to Highlanders and All Blacks fullback Ben Smith will deny Collins, who has a Bachelor of Commerce degree from Otago University, a personal clash against the man known as Ben from Accounts, but a visiting backline including Waisake Naholo and Malakai Fekitoa, plus former Blues wing Tevita Li, could keep him busy.

The Blues will welcome back hooker and co-captain James Parsons from concussion, and have been bolstered by the return to the starting line-up of forwards Jerome Kaino, Patrick Tuipulotu and Charlie Faumuina.

"It's been a long process ... but a lot of positives have come out of it," said Parsons, who suffered the head injury while playing for North Harbour last September. "When you're given challenges, you find a fair bit out about yourself. Now I'm at the other end, I can see those learnings and I'm excited to do my role for the team."

Backs Moala and Ranger will make their first starts of the year.

Blues v Highlanders

Eden Park, tomorrow, 7.35pm
Michael Collins
Matt Duffie
Rieko Ioane
George Moala
Rene Ranger
Ihaia West
Augustine Pulu
Murphy Taramai
Blake Gibson
Jerome Kaino
Patrick Tuipulotu
Jimmy Tupou
Charlie Faumuina
James Parsons (c)
Pauliasi Manu.
Richard Buckman
Waisake Naholo
Malakai Fekitoa
Rob Thompson
Tevita Li
Lima Sopoaga
Aaron Smith
Luke Whitelock
Elliot Dixon (c)
Gareth Evans
Tom Franklin
Alex Ainley,
S.Halanukonuka
Liam Coltman
D. Lienert-Brown

Reserves
Blues: M. Moulds, S. Prattley, O. Tu'ungafasi, G. Cowley-Tuioti, A. Ioane, B. Guyton, P. Francis, M. Nanai.
Highlanders: S. Pole, A. Seiuli, S.Tokolahi, J. Wheeler, J. Hemopo, D. Hunt, K. Hammington, M.Banks.

- NZ Herald

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