Gregor Paul

Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Rugby: Season from hell could make Anscombe

Gareth Anscombe. Photo / Getty Images
Gareth Anscombe. Photo / Getty Images

Gareth Anscombe is hoping the Blues' rotten 2012 campaign will be the making of him.

Piece by piece, his confidence is being shattered but he remains hopeful that this adversity will shape him; that the pieces will be collected and put together again, creating a stronger, better player.

There is ample proof that deconstruction can lead to improved reconstruction in the case of aspiring first fives.

It was soul-crushing nature of England's Tour from Hell in 1998 that galvanised Jonny Wilkinson, while Quade Cooper would not be the player he now is were it not for the emotional battering he took in 2007 when the Reds were awful.

"I have had that sort of discussion with a few players in this team," says Anscombe in answer to whether he believes this season will be the making of him. "Some that have gone on to achieve some pretty big things. I'll keep working at my game. It is not ideal to be in this situation but I want to be part of this team that drives our fortune around.

I want to stay in the driving seat so I have to look at my game, bring some enthusiasm and keep trying."

He's not alone in this hope - everyone linked with the franchise is now clutching the same dream and could be one of the only positives to emerge from a campaign that plunged further into misery following the 29-23 loss to the Sharks at Eden Park on Friday night.

It was a contest between the two most emotionally brittle sides in the competition. The Sharks, much like the Blues, carry the heavy burden of expectation and are also being hampered by their lack of confidence in the wake of their indifferent start to the season.

As their coach John Plumtree observed after the game: "There were two sides out there pretty low on confidence and scared to make mistakes."

Defeat for the Blues all but brought mathematical closure to still making the play-offs.

With just 11 points and a hatful of local derbies, they won't be featuring in the finals series. It's too late to persuade the eight players who are planning offshore ventures to stay. Other than pride and self-respect, the most important thing left for the Blues to salvage is their support.

Every wart on the cavernous Eden Park almost glows when it's barely quarter-full - the empty seats a stark reminder that the franchise is not only losing games, but also hearts and minds.

In these tough economic times, the Blues can't afford to alienate the rugby public further. This season may have gone up in smoke, but it's imperative for the future of the organisation that they find some way of alluding to a brighter future.

Anscombe is the future - a player with the potential to provide structure, stability and vision. He could be the solution to the vexed problem of erratic and flighty No 10s at the franchise and, amid all the carnage, he's the piece of wreckage that can be re-built.

"It's tough at the moment," says the 20-year-old. "I made some crucial mistakes that hurt us [against the Sharks]. We are short of confidence and I'm afraid it was the same old mistakes from us at crucial times and that hurts.

"It's not good enough from us and we have to turn things around because we have to play the Highlanders in Dunedin this week."

The Blues are likely to be without captain Keven Mealamu for the next encounter just to make life that bit tougher, although Ali Williams should be able to avoid any sanction for the frustration he was showing towards referee Steve Walsh at the final whistle.

The big lock wanted to engage with the official - presumably to remonstrate about the glaring error made in awarding Sharks second five Tim Whitehead's try.

Walsh acknowledged after the game he'd made a mistake in not seeing the knock-on.

It was easy to understand Williams' frustration - Walsh merely compounding the number of things weighing against the Blues.

It was yet another night where nothing would come right - their structure and game plan at least on the right track, but their individual execution and decision making decidedly poor at critical times.

- Herald on Sunday

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