Kirwan trawls wide net to land new talent

SIR JOHN KIRWAN: "It's about creating an environment that I think is really important - the success of the past."
SIR JOHN KIRWAN: "It's about creating an environment that I think is really important - the success of the past."

New Blues coach Sir John Kirwan says he'll continue to scour the country for the best talent, even if it puts noses out of joint at Auckland, North Harbour and Northland.

Kirwan last week signed flanker Brendon O'Connor from Canterbury and Southland outside back Marty McKenzie, while until recently he was interested in Cantabrians Dominic Bird and Johnny McNicholl.

The Chiefs and Highlanders have regularly pulled in players from around the country but it hasn't been the way the Blues have done things in the past.

Although these signings may have been done with an eye to the future rather than next season alone, it shows Kirwan means business in doing whatever it takes to make the Blues a force again.

“My selection policy breaks into two,” Kirwan told Sunday News. “For us, it's bringing good young people into our region who we think there is a big upside with.

“There is a progression part of that. Where is our future? What is our progression?

“Also, it is very important to create a squad that has internal competition, so that would be part of that side of my selection process.

“What I've said to the three provinces - Auckland, North Harbour and Northland - is that there are 20 spots to be taken, you will be first cab off the rank, but you need to put your hand above everyone else and say that you're better at the ITM Cup and you need to win, because it is a big jump from the ITM Cup to Super Rugby.

“They know that and understand that and I will not apologise for selecting into our franchise where I think there are some gaps.”

Soon after Kirwan was named as the next Blues coach, but before he started the job, it was revealed that first-five Chris Noakes had signed for the team. Although Kirwan didn't play a part in bringing him to the franchise, he is happy to have the former Highlander on his books.

“There are no real issues, I like Chris, I've spoken to him, I've looked at all of his games since for the Highlanders and was starting to watching him for the Bay before his injury. I think he'll be good for the environment, he is a good, level-headed, decision-making first-five.”

One senior player from this year's squad who hasn't sorted a deal for next year is Daniel Braid and Kirwan said he'd soon have discussions with the Auckland captain.

“Braidy is injured and we need to talk about what he's doing and when he's coming back to it. He is a player that isn't playing at the moment, so we need to make some decisions.”

Meanwhile, Kirwan said he allowed Rudi Wulf to walk out on the last year of his contract and return to Toulon because it was in the best interests of the franchise.

“Rudi has got some personal issues and I don't think his head would be in it. He thinks the personal issues are more important than staying in New Zealand and playing and I understand those."

Kirwan insists that he hasn't set a precedent for other Blues players who think they'll be able to break their contract.

“You have got to show some commitment,” Kirwan said.

“You have to take each case as it comes, I don't want everyone turning up saying I've got personal issues.

“Rudi has off-field issues that he feels strongly about and I made a decision that I thought was in the best interest of the franchise, which was that I didn't think he'd be totally committed to us and I'm happy for him to move on."

Sunday News