Gregor Paul 's Opinion

Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Gregor Paul: Young Blues will surprise

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Standing the size of a small cliff face and garnished with enough hair for six people,  Ofa Tu'ungafasi is hard to miss. Photo / Getty Images
Standing the size of a small cliff face and garnished with enough hair for six people, Ofa Tu'ungafasi is hard to miss. Photo / Getty Images

Gut feeling - the Blues are going to go surprisingly well in 2013. They haven't scrambled together a championship team or even one that can be touted as serious play-off candidates.

But they have the potential to win more than four games as they did this year. They may end up winning enough to flirt with the knockout rounds and if nothing else restore pride in the region and give people a reason to head back to Eden Park.

There are some talented footballers in the mix - a few players who may end up establishing themselves as starting players and possibly even pushing onto the national radar.

Mark down the name Ofa Tu'ungafasi. He'll be hard to miss, standing the size of a small cliff face and garnished with enough hair for six people.

He may well be the Ben Tameifuna of next year - a young prop who starts the season with modest ambition of winning a bit of game-time only to establish himself as something dramatically more.

He's trim round the waist, huge across the shoulders and has no problems lugging his 130kg around. Brendan O'Connor at openside is another intriguing prospect. Not much is known about him - but that's because he's spent two years at a franchise that had Richie McCaw, Matt Todd and George Whitelock. Being fourth in that pecking order is no disgrace. He's come to Auckland to prove that all he's been lacking is opportunity.

That's the case for most of the squad - Kane Barrett, Baden Kerr, Quentin MacDonald and Jackson Willison could prove to be more than competent footballers if they are given regular games.

Then there is a host of emerging talent such as Charles Piutau, Francis Saili, Malakai Fekitoa, Waisake Naholo, Bryn Hall, Jamison Gibson-Park and Ronald Raaymakers. This lot are young and fearless - capable of boom and bust in the same game.

The Blues' enemy in 2012 was lack of cohesion, dynamism and overall understanding of what they were trying to do on the field.

They were under prepared by a skeleton management team, ravaged by injuries and hindered by a head coach who was strangely hit with chronic indecision.. None of this is likely to be an issue in 2013.

John Kirwan has addressed the key problems. He has a coaching team with skill and experience, a clear vision of how he wants his side to play and no ambiguity around the basic professional standards he expects to be maintained.

Lack of exposure to professional rugby will be the biggest issue his side faces. Inexperience of the top level will be the hurdle this side will clip on occasion.

They won't lack for desire, energy or passion and for those who sat through the debacle of 2012, that in itself may be enough to rekindle faith.

- Herald on Sunday

Gregor Paul

Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer. He has written several books on rugby including the Reign of King Henry, Black Obsession and For the Love of the Game.

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