Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

Rugby: Blues must quickly snap out of mindset muddle

Blues fullback Charles Piutau will need to be a metre-eater against the Brumbies tonight. Photo / Greg Bowker
Blues fullback Charles Piutau will need to be a metre-eater against the Brumbies tonight. Photo / Greg Bowker

It seems rugby has been a long way from the programme for the Blues in a week when they need to recapture their Super 15 mojo.

They lost half their side to the national training camp before Graham Henry reclaimed the headlines from his soapbox and captain Ali Williams announced his international exit.

Somewhere among that muddle they were trying to work out some order to deal with the challenge from the Brumbies tonight at Eden Park.

It is not ideal but players use a mix of methods to motivate themselves for these sort of clutch encounters.

Blues fullback Charles Piutau has been one of his side's success stories in a season of advances for the franchise.

The challenge goes up a notch, though, for each team hovering around the top six qualifying mark for the finals.

The Blues staggered last week while the Brumbies were squeezed out by the Waratahs.

Piutau was removed from much of the brouhaha as he attended the All Blacks camp in Mt Maunganui. He found the start daunting but soaked up the experience.

Now it's time to add some of that knowledge to the list of his rugby gifts which attracted the All Black selectors.

"Much of it was about not having to do it all, making good decisions on when to kick, when to run and those sort of things we deal with in the back three," he said.

That trio of Piutau, Frank Halai and George Moala should be busy tonight if the Brumbies follow their usual pattern of kicking much of their ball out of their own half.

Super 15 statistics this season show Piutau in the leading group of a number of categories across the 16-team competition.

Piutau, Rene Ranger and Halai figure in the top 10 for clean breaks, Piutau and Peter Saili as ball carriers while Piutau beats the most defenders and makes the most metres.

No wonder the All Black selectors came calling.

Others make the list from the Blues such as flanker Luke Braid, who delivers quality offloads while Halai has the most tries with eight.

The Brumbies come calling with wing Henry Speight picking up seven tries, Jesse Mogg five and captain Ben Mowen in the top group as a successful lineout target.

"From what I've seen the Brumbies kick a lot so we will all have to be wary of that," Piutau said.

"They do it from 9, 10, 12 and Mogg so they test you by coming at you from all angles."

Much of the Brumbies' strategy is about reducing their risk inside their own half. Coach Jake White had instilled a much more disciplined focus within his side.

However, there has been a slide in their recent performance and results and they have lost their recycled champion flanker George Smith for this clash.

The Blues have lost their best blindside Steve Luatua to a neck injury but have picked Brendon O'Connor to give them twin opensides on a night when conditions may be a little sloppy.

A week ago, the Blues competed stoutly for about an hour against the international clout of the Crusaders pack. Tonight is another of those exams.

Occasional achievement is not enough in the Super 15 series. This is a critical time for the Blues if they are to convince themselves they can do the business in the playoffs.

Blues v Brumbies
Eden Park, 7.35 tonight

Blues: Charles Piutau, Frank Halai, Rene Ranger, Francis Saili, George Moala, Chris Noakes, Piri Weepu, Peter Saili, Luke Braid, Brendon O'Connor, Ali Williams (c), Culum Retallick, Ta'avao/Prattley, Keven Mealamu, Tim Perry
Reserves: James Parsons, S. Prattley/ O. Tu'ungafasi, Anthony Boric, Kane Barrett, J. Gibson-Park, Baden Kerr, Jackson Willison.

Brumbies: Jesse Mogg, Henry Speight, Tevita Kuridrani, C. Lealiifano, Joseph Tomane, Matt Toomua, Nic White, Ben Mowen (c), Colby Faingaa, Peter Kimlin, Sam Carter, Scott Fardy, Ben Alexander, Stephen Moore, Scott Sio
Reserves: Siliva Siliva, Ruan Smith, Jordan Smiler, Fotu Auelua, Ian Prior, Robbie Coleman, Clyde Rathbone.

- NZ Herald

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