OPINION: The Blues have every reason to feeling aggrieved by Piri Weepu's sloppy form and fitness but they're also guilty of letting themselves down with their management of this scenario.
Blues skipper Keven Mealamu gave his star import a decent old spray today, criticising Weepu's lack of fitness and form.
Mealamu made it clear there was disappointment with the shape of Weepu on his arrival into the Blues camp for this year's Super Rugby campaign.
If Mealamu, normally a reserved character, is prepared to say this publicly, it begs the question: what is going on privately in the Blues camp with so much pressure on the players, coach, management and administration?
Clearly carrying some extra kilograms, Weepu has failed to make an impact with his new team.
In fact he's failing to make the starting side too often for a player of his calibre and worth.
But this is nothing new. Weepu has had a history of these sorts of early season trials. They have plagued previous campaigns with the Hurricanes and also impacted on his All Blacks career.
The Blues knew this when they trumpeted their signing of the World Cup winner last year.
They needed some guarantees from Weepu over this high-profile move, a signing the player himself was clearly delighted with given that he had an opportunity to expand his game in the No 10 jersey as well.
It wouldn't have been out of order for the Blues to demand some fitness monitors because there was always the danger of Weepu slipping in this area following the lengthy layoff after the World Cup success.
Sir Graham Henry showed that a strong hand could eventually bring out the best in Weepu. His new masters in Auckland needed to follow suit.
Weepu has been in a game of catchup ever since arriving at the Blues.
And now the Blues are involved in a desperate game of catchup as a team after their disastrous start to the season that reads just one win and five losses.
It looks like a lost cause on recent showings.
And there will be little compensation if Weepu slowly starts to find his fitness and form when it's too late to change the Blues' fate.
Weepu's shabby situation is one of several that has plagued the Blues this year.
The late arrival of his good friend and former Hurricanes player Ma' Nonu didn't help.
Nonu's stint playing rice-paper rugby in Japan meant he came back even later than the other All Blacks and faced a tough task getting up to speed with the Blues' game plans and methods with the campaign already under way, albeit stalled by two opening losses including an embarrassment in Hamilton against the Chiefs.
Then there was the extended absence of All Blacks prop Tony Woodcock, granted leave despite the Blues having some front row problems following the departure of John Afoa.
On top of all this has been a sorry injury toll, striking down plenty of the squad's starpower.
But none of these have stood out like the lack of value being provided by Weepu.
It wasn't so long ago that Weepu could do no wrong. Remember the "Piri Power" mania that swept across the country as he stepped up with his goalkicking and general play as the All Blacks, despite a first-five crisis, marched to their World Cup title?
Weepu looks a shadow of that player right now.
The Blues need to do something about it. They need to get Weepu back into the physical and mental shape that make him the sort of player who can help transform this sorry campaign.
There's few better sights in the Kiwi game than seeing a fit and confident Weepu bringing composure to those around him.
But Weepu needs to do something not just for his team but also for himself. He must surely realise that suddenly halfback is the most competitive position in the New Zealand game.
Young TJ Perenara has been sensational since taking over from Weepu at the Hurricanes. Tawera Kerr-Barlow looks far more composed in his second year with the Chiefs and the growth of Aaron Smith at the Highlanders has been nothing less than remarkable.
Right now Weepu is looking like the worst of the halfbacks around the country - just as the Blues are looking the worst of New Zealand's five Super Rugby teams.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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