Well-resourced Chiefs the envy of Pat Lam
The worm hasn't so much turned, as done a back-flip.
What other way is there to decipher yesterday's plaintive concession from Pat Lam that the Blues are looking on with envy at the coaching resources available to the Chiefs just 100km or so down the road.
Lam's admission that the Blues are drastically under-resourced in their coaching regime and that, by contrast, Saturday's Super Rugby opponent the Chiefs have one of the best setups in the competition says it all.
The Blues represent New Zealand's largest urban area and have the country's biggest catchment of talent to call on. Yet they're a shambles, having lost 11 of their 13 games in 2012.
By contrast, the Chiefs, who meet the Blues on Saturday night at North Harbour Stadium, have to think outside the square given their largely regional makeup. Their 10-2 record for first place overall indicates they have done so splendidly.
That's a fact the embattled Blues coach has finally arrived at, admitting that having only himself and Bryce Woodward as fulltime coaches in the franchise was simply not good enough. On Saturday night skills guru Jeff Wilson was on commentary duty for Sky Television because he's only a part-timer with the team.
"They've got some good coaches there," said Lam when asked what had made the Chiefs so successful this year. "When you have Wayne Smith's background as All Blacks coach and the work he's brought to them, and Dave Rennie has got all the knowledge of the last five or six years with the under-20 programme, I've got no doubt that's made a massive difference.
"Then they've got Tom Coventry and Andrew Strawbridge. That's four fulltime coaches. They're well resourced and they're getting the best out of the players. What they've done in that whole coaching area is outstanding."
And the Blues?
"It's only me and Bryce fulltime," shrugged Lam. "We're the most under-resourced out of the whole competition. Jeff's only part-time, they didn't have a fulltime job for him."
Asked if there was a clear lesson for the Blues as new chairman Gary Whetton puts the microscope over the entire franchise, Lam was emphatic.
"I'm a schoolteacher, and when I taught 32 kids, and when I taught 18 kids, there's a big difference. It's something the franchise has to look at – the whole coaching structure.
"Maybe it's too late for myself but that's the way it is. The season is longer, there's a lot of younger guys ... I'd say I've worked more this year than I did last year. I enjoy my job and my work ethic hasn't changed, but it's just a lot of work."
Lam confirmed young five-eighth Gareth Anscombe was out for the next six weeks with a high ankle sprain, and said Michael Hobbs was "most likely" to step into the No10 jersey. Piri Weepu, away at the All Blacks camp, was not a feasible option.
Lam hoped to welcome Rudi Wulf back to his backline this week and said Rene Ranger and Chris Lowrey were longer shots.
Lam would not be drawn on whether he would return his All Blacks en masse to starting duty this week, after putting Weepu, Ma'a Nonu and Ali Williams on the bench for the 27-20 defeat to the Highlanders.
"Those boys are back for the back end of the week and we'll see how it unfolds," he said. "Ma'a was outstanding, and they all came on and did a really good job."But Lam said the Chiefs should be regarded as a great challenge for a Blues team mired on struggle street.
"They are riding high, their players are on form and they're top of the table. What a great game for us. It's very rare we go in as underdogs against a Chiefs team at home. It's going to be good test for us."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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