Hobbs given task of unleashing Nonu on SBW

DAVID LONG
Last updated 05:00 02/06/2012

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Michael Hobbs has faced many challenges through his career, most notably the back operation he had in America which got him playing again after nearly two years out of the game.

While he has been a regular squad member for the Highlanders and Blues over the years, he has never been able to convincingly establish himself as an outstanding player who could push for higher honours.

But that could start to change tonight if he can steer the Blues to a memorable win over the Chiefs at North Harbour Stadium.

With Gareth Anscombe out for the season with an ankle injury and Blues coach Pat Lam now convinced that Piri Weepu should only be played at halfback, it falls on Hobbs to play first-five tonight.

Hobbs played a few games at No 10 early in the season, with about as much success as anyone else has had, but recently he's been used in the midfield.

Tonight though, in front of a large New Zealand audience, he'll have his best chance yet to prove his worth.

"It's a big game for us, a big rivalry game," said Hobbs.

"The Chiefs are flying high at the moment, they're doing well, so it's a big opportunity and a big task for us.

"I have been bouncing around a bit, I played 13 last week so I have to get back into that mind-set around game plan, what I want from my forward pack and what I need from my outside backs, making sure we're all on the same page and that we've got clarity with the game plan."

A key to a Blues win, which would be just the third of the season, is to use Ma'a Nonu to the best of his ability.

Too often this season Anscombe failed in putting Nonu into space because he sat too deep in the pocket himself, so the ball to Nonu was flat and he had defenders on him before he got going.

But against the Highlanders last weekend Nonu was at his best and it should be a mouth-watering clash tonight to see him go up against Sonny Bill Williams for the first time.

However, so much of the outcome of that head-to-head between the two All Blacks second-fives will be determined by Hobbs and the Chiefs' Aaron Cruden.

"Ma'a is a world class player and when he's close to his best he is unstoppable out there," Hobbs said.

"We'll be hoping for another performance like that, as I'm sure he's expecting from himself.

"Aaron has been one of the form players in Super Rugby this year. He has obviously grown at the Chiefs and is playing some good, attacking footy," Hobbs said.

"So we are going to have to be wary of where he is on the field because he directs the ship pretty well."

There are plenty of players moving on from the Blues at the end of the season, but Hobbs isn't one of them. He is in the first season of a two-year deal and he'll also play for North Harbour this year in the NPC.

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"Obviously I've got a few more games for the Blues to get through yet, but it will be a good new environment and it's something I'm looking forward to," he said.

- Waikato

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