New year, new coach, new attitude at the Blues.

Gone is the metaphorical revolving door at the pivotal first-five position under John Kirwan's reign, and in is new coach Tana Umaga's endorsement of Ihaia West as the man with the No10 jersey to lose.

Umaga, appointed as Kirwan's replacement in June following a disastrous season which reaped three victories and 13 defeats, has been impressed with West's recent development, and in particular the skill and mental strength he showed in kicking the last-minute conversion for Hawkes Bay to win the Championship final against Wellington last year.

West, who turns 24 on Saturday, became the incumbent under Kirwan last year, playing 15 matches as the Blues limped to second-to-last place on the table. His rivals for the jersey were Simon Hickey and Dan Bowden, both of whom have signed with offshore clubs after being deemed by Umaga as surplus to requirements.


While West played well in patches, he will want to play a more dominant role in 2016 and an early endorsement from Umaga should help.

Kirwan's strategy during his troubled three seasons in charge was a constant competition for places which left some players down on confidence and unsure of their place in the side. In 2014, Hickey, West, Benji Marshall and Chris Noakes were all tried in the No10 jersey.

This year West will be vying with the inexperienced Matt McGahon and Piers Francis for the first-five spot, and the expectation is for him to take control on and off the field.

"Ihaia West is the guy who has been in Super Rugby for three years," Umaga said today. "I was very impressed with him in last year's ITM Cup. The growing of Ihaia [could be seen] in that kick to win the game. Some people have had issues with Ihaia's mental temperament - being able to handle pressure situations. I just thought his game had grown in the ITM Cup.

"He is the senior 10 there so it's his job to lose at the moment... but everything's open."

Umaga, taking time out from leading his team in their pre-season training activities, was wary about promising much in his first season - another big difference to the relentlessly positive Kirwan.

West's halfback partner is likely to be Bryn Hall, who will have Billy Guyton and 19-year-old Sam Nock as his rivals for the position.

Umaga said: "I know [Hall] didn't have such a good 2015 but I have talked to him about 2014 when he was very good and how he can get back to that."


The Blues' World Cup-winning All Blacks, prop Charlie Faumuina and skipper and loose forward Jerome Kaino, have been training with the team, with Japan-based players, flanker Tanerau Latimer and utility back Male Sa'u, due to arrive in a fortnight.

Midfielder Rene Ranger, back at the Blues following his stint in France, has yet to resume contact training following neck surgery. Umaga is hopeful the 29-year-old Ranger will be available for the team's first game against the Highlanders at Eden Park on February 26.