Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Rugby: Otere Black latest target in Blues' endless search for right player to fill No 10 jersey

Ihaia West has struggled with the Blues. Photo / www.photosport.nz
Ihaia West has struggled with the Blues. Photo / www.photosport.nz

The Blues probably won't make Super Rugby's playoffs. They deserve to, and if common sense was allowed to prevail, they would.

But chances are they will miss out to the Highlanders and with that, the whole season review process will begin in earnest and end, as it always does, with their options at first-five.

There's plenty of other things for them to fix and refine but their top problem remains their No 10 jersey. They don't have the player they want or need and again, as has happened for the past six years or so, they are desperately scouring the country hoping to lure a touch of class to a position that has troubled them for longer than anyone can remember.

The hunt has been seemingly endless. Not only have they burned through a long list of players who never delivered what they were supposed to, but also several big names - Dan Carter, Jonny Wilkinson, Juan Martin Hernandez and Beauden Barrett - have turned them down.

The fact so much has been promised and so little delivered has created a sense that the Blues are never going to fix this.

Blues fans are perhaps resigned to their fate that a good No 10 is something the Chiefs, Hurricanes, Crusaders and Highlanders can expect to have, but not them.

In the latest twist Piers Francis, the man they have trusted most this season, is returning to England.

Ihaia West has had a couple of years in the squad and continues to frustrate with his lack of attention to detail and it's uncertain whether Bryn Gatland, called in from the wider reaches this year, can develop his skills to the level required.

Stephen Perofeta is contracted to the Blues but he hasn't yet played because of injury. And while he could, in time, be the long-term answer, the Blues will feel they can't go into 2018 with an untried 20-year-old as their primary option.

All of this is why they are chasing Otere Black - the 22-year-old who has played for the New Zealand Maori and Under-20 sides, yet lives mostly on the Hurricanes bench during Super Rugby.

The Blues are hoping the lure of game time will bring Black to Auckland. They have tried and failed with this pitch before, but are hoping this time, having taken steps in the right direction, Black may see the Blues as less of a risk with his aspirations.

Should he agree to come, though, no one should start ticking the problem-solved box quite yet. Black, despite having played for national sides, is still no certainty to be the right man. Remember Nick Evans came to the Blues and didn't settle. Stephen Brett ended his time in Auckland having never advanced from the promising rookie season he enjoyed with the Crusaders and Daniel Kirkpatrick was a teenage sensation when he came to the Blues and most fans won't even be able to recall who he was.

Black is probably a good chance to come, but the odds of the Blues being back in the hunt for another No 10 this time next year are about the same.

- NZ Herald

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