Piri Weepu in top shape to kick off season
A personal best in the demanding "beep test" has signalled Piri Weepu's intentions for the looming Super Rugby season with the Blues.
All Blacks halfback Weepu officially joined the Blues squad this week and on Monday was put through the nightmare test designed to gauge an athlete's cardiovascular fitness.
After last year's embarrassing debut season for the Blues where weight and fitness issues dogged him all campaign, the 29-year-old has certainly done everything to earn some early praise from his new coach John Kirwan.
"Piri is fantastic ... a personal best yesterday in his beep test ... so coming off a break he is right up there," a delighted Kirwan said.
"Piri has been outstanding from a leadership point of view as well."
Weepu reckons he is about 10kg lighter than this time last year when World Cup celebrations took their toll on his stocky frame and also put a question mark over his All Blacks selection, although he eventually retained the faith of Steve Hansen's new selection panel.
"I'd like to say I'm in pretty good nick," Weepu said, acknowledging a need to show up ship-shape.
"I'm probably around the same as I was on the end of year tour last year so I've been trying to keep everything down and make sure that my numbers are right this time around.
"I thought I should keep up with things this year and try and make sure I start a lot better than how I was shape-wise last year.
"I've been trying to run the roads and run up some mountains and do anything I can that's cardio along with a little bit of weights in between spending some quality time with my family."
Weepu and former All Blacks wing Rene Ranger are the only surviving Blues backs from last year's disasters.
Kirwan is expecting big things from Weepu, although he won't be rushing him into action with the Blues facing their first preseason match against the Reds in Queensland on Saturday night.
While Kirwan is thrilled with Weepu's fitness and the similar physical state of fellow current All Blacks Ali Williams and Charlie Faumuina, he says they need more time to get up to speed with the new systems the Blues coaching staff are implementing.
Williams might get a run against the Waratahs in Whangarei next week, while Weepu and Faumuina are only likely to be involved in the last trial match against the Highlanders in Queenstown. In their absence, Kirwan is backing his youngsters to get the show under way in Toowoomba, although he's not going to be looking at the scoreboard.
"I'm not interested at all in the results. I'm not too worried about the performance ... I think it's going to be rusty," Kirwan said.
"For me it's about there being some real clarity of roles and responsibilities and the new systems that we have in place."
Meanwhile, the Blues are keeping in close contact with Queensland's officials about staging the match as the Australian state struggles with the deadly storms that have ravaged it over the past few days.
"First of all, our thoughts go out to all the people who are struggling over there. Let's hope they are safe and can sort their lives out and we'll worry about sport after that," Kirwan said.
"If we have to cancel, we have to cancel. It's just one of those things. But we've heard where we are going is OK. Apparently Toowoomba hasn't been affected. But we will let them [Queensland rugby] make those decisions."
The Blues are due to leave on Friday and will name their travel squad tomorrow.