No booze nets big results for Blues' Peter Saili
Peter Saili calls it a "small sacrifice", but the Blues loose forward's decision to knock off the booze for the season has yielded big results.
The 26-year-old has been preferred ahead of All Black Steven Luatua for much of the Super Rugby campaign, including tomorrow's must-win clash against the table-topping Sharks at North Harbour Stadium.
Blues coach Sir John Kirwan said he favoured the "harder edge" of his 111-kilogram No 8 turned blindside flanker.
Kirwan said he had picked the loose trio "best for the opposition", and that was an endorsement of the consistency Saili was delivering for the Blues this season.
"He's just tough over the ball, likes tackling people and hits rucks," Kirwan said.
"Steven is going to be a great player, [but] he just needs to keep working hard around those physicality areas.
"He will be one of the best in the world when he nails that."
Saili, who missed the loss to the Chiefs in New Plymouth to be with his partner for the birth of their baby, has been named at No 6 to face the Sharks and says he does not care where he plays as long as he is contributing to the squad.
After admitting to some surprise that his teetotal stance had been outed, he shrugged it off as the least he could do.
"It's just a little personal thing - my commitment towards the team," he said.
"I've never done a dry campaign, or whatever you call it.
"I don't know you could say I feel any better for it, but if that's what I've got to do, it's what I'll do. It's a small sacrifice."
Kirwan welcomes back skipper Luke Braid after the openside flanker rested a shoulder for a couple of games, but he is without veteran halfback Piri Weepu, who tweaked his groin playing club rugby in Wellington last weekend.
Young All Blacks Charles Piutau (knee) and Francis Saili (ankle) remain sidelined, as is Jackson Willison (hamstring).
Lolagi Visinia fills in at fullback, and Pita Ahki and Tevita Li come in at centre and left wing respectively.
With just 25 points and bottom spot in the Kiwi conference, six behind the fourth-placed Hurricanes, Friday's game is as close to must-win as it gets if the Blues entertain any hope of a late playoff push.
Ever the optimist, Kirwan reckons four wins - or at a pinch, three - could be enough to sneak them in, but Peter Saili said the players' take on their position was pretty simple.
"The message is we've got to win every game to make the playoffs," he said.
"Of course we can do it. We haven't hit our straps yet, and still haven't played the full 80-minute game as a team.
"If we can get at least 40 or 50 minutes together we can pull out some wins."
The Sharks will be dangerous foes, with the South Africans almost in bonus territory after their unlikely win over the Crusaders in Christchurch.
"They'll strangle you if they can," Kirwan said.
"Jake White is obviously a great coach. He knows what he needs to do to win, and it's really important we're ready for that type of football.
"We've got to show lots of energy and make sure we sort their kicking game out."
Saili was impressed by the Sharks' undermanned win in Christchurch.
"If they can win with 14 men down there, imagine what they can do with 15. We're up against a real tough team," he said.
"They've set the standard right from the beginning, and we've got to take them on up front and then release our backs to score some points."
Now that would be something worth drinking to.
What did you make of the 2014 Super Rugby season?