Troubles at the Blues franchise run very deep

LIAM NAPIER
Last updated 05:00 03/06/2012

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OPINION: It's time to stop scratching the surface at the Blues. It's time for an independent review into their top office.

Don't leave it to the old-boys club who resist change – give an outside body the power to clean out the deadwood at the enigmatic franchise.

Rugby, we are told, is meant to follow a business model. It is not an excuse for a gentlemen's gathering.

The troubled franchise's problems run deeper than coach Pat Lam, the only sacrificial scapegoat in this horror season. Each year Blues management have been put under the microscope, yet long-serving chief executive Andy Dalton has, somehow, escaped constant public probes and accountability.

Since Dalton took over from David White in 2006 there has been a lack of player development and questionable structural decisions. Benson Stanley remains the Blues' only new All Black since 2009. The No10 jersey has been on a merry-go-round. And despite successive titles (2010-11) from the under-18s, and the Blues contributing 11 of 24 players to last year's New Zealand schools team, there appears to be little faith in harnessing that talent.

There is growing empathy for Lam. Sure, selection choices have been baffling at times and game-plans have been ignored. But it is clear Lam lacks strong support, both in the coaching box, and in the form of authoritative leadership from his powerbrokers. Was he handicapped from the outset?

Dalton had a large say in signing off on Ma'a Nonu's late arrival and Tony Woodcock's leave of absence, and he didn't think to impose some form of fitness requirements on the out-of-shape Piri Weepu. Those contractual issues are not the coach's alone. The CEO is supposed to have the clout to set the vision and values.

Lam's management team is drastically understaffed – extended squads and the long season required a more, not less, approach.

Liam Barry was not replaced as defence coach this year after he left the Blues for North Harbour. Jeff Wilson inherited a "part-time" skills role. Yet the former All Black is spotted commentating on Blues' matches instead of assisting the team.

The Chiefs have been where the Blues are now. Their four-pronged coaching set-up flipped the switch on that neighbourhood rivalry. Yet the Blues, the wealthiest franchise in the country, imposed budget constraints on coaching staff. That is nonsensical.

With the writing seemingly on the wall, Lam has put his Mt Eden house on the market. Many in the Auckland rugby community feel Dalton should be gone too.

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