The mind boggles as to why the Blues franchise have scouted out a pair of talented young South Islanders for their squad next year, while its own region is ripe with talent who are being plundered on a weekly basis by NRL and Super franchise scouts.
Is this decision an acknowledgement that the Blues' own development system is broken?
Casting the net so wide is fine, but it seems strange when the region has an embarrassment of riches, including three National Championship sides and the hot favourite for the National Secondary School title.
A lot of hand ringing has been made about the lack of a quality head coach at the Blues, and we'll soon find out if Sir John Kirwan can fill that spot. But what is being done to secure the services of an expert youth development coach? Why aren't older statesmen of the game like Peter Thorburn or Buck Shelford being used to mentor the next crop, in the same way John Ackland prepares the Junior Warriors?
Much is made of the incredibly talented under-20s side but most of the platitudes should go to Ackland who has taken three virtually new squads to three top four finishes in the Toyota Cup competition.
That's no mean feat, considering these semi-professional youngsters have to travel to Australia every second week and juggle a job or university study.
I do feel sorry for Sir JK, as he's not only lost the services of scrum rock in Tony Woodcock but he'll also be without his back-row general in Jerome Kaino, and his options at first-five are looking pretty thin.
If Kirwan could lure Juan Martin Hernandez over for a season, it would not only give rugby fans the chance to watch one of the greatest first-fives of the last decade, apart from Dan Carter of course, but he would also provide the direction and tactical nous missing this season.
Given all the other franchises are sporting an All Black quality number 10, the Blues cannot settle for a below-par pivot, and perhaps another year of learning under someone like Hernandez could give Gareth Anscombe the time he needs to make that next step.
The other areas of weakness which the Blues will need to recruit well in are number eight and fullback.
Counties backrower Fritz Lee is one player with strong potential and was having a barnstorming season until he broke his arm. And he may well be tempted to move north after getting limited game time for the Chiefs this year.
I suspect young fullback Charles Piutau could be a real star in the making for the Blues. He was the top try scorer for the New Zealand under-19s at the World Cup so he has the ability. He'll just need experienced players around him so it wouldn't hurt to also pick a few older heads like Orene Aii and Lachie Munro.
Whatever happens, the Blues will need to find a way to retain its core squad. It seems every year a crop of well-established players head offshore and it means the coaching staff constantly struggle with depth when injuries hit. If Kirwan can do one thing well, it should be establishing a team culture players want to stay in, and from that he can form the foundation for future success.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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