Francis leaving franchise but he was never a long-term option.

Confirmation Piers Francis will leave the Blues after this season doesn't change anything for coach Tana Umaga as far as his planning for next year goes.

The cold, hard truth of the matter is that with the deepest respect to Francis, he's not up to the job of being the Blues' chief playmaker. Whether Northampton had come knocking for him or not, the Blues were going to be actively searching for a seasoned No10 to guide them through next year.

Francis is a plucky battler who has the sort of bravery and determination that marks him as a player worthy of respect and admiration. He's a good communicator and he's not a bad goal kicker. And if the Blues were set up the way Umaga would like, Francis would be a good option in the background to slip in at No10 or 12 when injuries struck or frontliners needed a break.

But the Blues aren't set up the way Umaga would like and Francis has taken the No10 jersey by default. He's not necessarily worthy of it but he's more worthy than Umaga's other choice - Ihaia West.


This is the uncomfortable reality for Umaga - that neither Francis nor West are long-term options. Neither can solve the No10 riddle as they are not equipped to do so. They will battle it out for the jersey this year, but that is happening only because the Blues, after desperately trying, couldn't find a better option.

They made a big play for Damian McKenzie, but he rejected their offer to stay at the Chiefs. They threw money at Beauden Barrett but he was never interested in playing for any other club than the Hurricanes. They also chased Barrett's understudy, Otere Black, but the 21-year-old signed an extension to stay in the capital.

Umaga chased and chased, but came up empty and hence had to resign himself to muddling through 2017 with two players, neither of whom, he could hand on heart say were up to it. His one victory was securing the signature of Stephen Perofeta - a prodigiously talented first-five who has played 11 games for Taranaki and was part of the New Zealand Under-20 side last year.

Perofeta might be a long term option for the Blues. He might be the sort of player who blossoms into the next Barrett or McKenzie and Umaga is going to test the likelihood of that this year.

That has always been Umaga's plan and the announcement about Francis has not forced any rethink. Perofeta, who is making his way back from injury, was always going to be given game time this year. Doesn't matter how often he starts, he just needs enough time to give everyone a better idea of what he is all about and to condition himself to rugby at this level.

And he needs that time because he could be the Blues No1 first-five next year. They will no doubt have another crack at luring Black from the Hurricanes but if he doesn't come, Perofeta will be the future. He will be the man in whom the Blues will invest. They take the long term view that if they are patient, supportive and nurturing, Perofeta can be developed into the high quality No10 they haven't had since Carlos Spencer left 12 years ago.

The Blues tens
(in no particular order)
Daniel Bowden, Simon Hickey, Lachie Munro, Benji Marshall, Baden Kerr, Chris Noakes, Gareth Anscombe, Daniel Kirkpatrick, Matt McGahan, Stephen Brett, Jimmy Gopperth, Michael Hobbs, Tasesa Lavea, James Arlidge, Orene Ai'i, Luke McAlister, Nick Evans, Carlos Spencer, David Holwell.