John Kirwan's baby Blues growing up quickly
Sir John Kirwan has a million of 'em. "Better never stops," is his latest, summing up the week facing his Blues as they prepare for their Super Rugby opener in Wellington on Saturday night.
In case you haven't twigged by now, the new Blues coach loves a slogan. And, to be fair, he's pretty bloody good at them too.
"Many cultures, one region" is how he describes his approach to the Blues' diverse makeup. He's working furiously at putting some much- needed pride and purpose back into a franchise that has wandered off track a bit in recent years.
And following a confidence- boosting 31-29 victory over the Highlanders in Queenstown on Friday evening to wrap up pre-season preparations, the knighted one wasn't getting too carried away with the upshot heading into what he knows will be a tough clash against the Canes.
"Better never stops, really - for us it's putting this one behind us and making sure we improve on those things we got out of the pre-season next week," he said yesterday. "We want to be a better football team next week than we were last week."
The Blues would have taken a lot more out of the final hitout than Jamie Joseph's Highlanders would have, niggling injuries denying the hosts a handful of their seasoned pros. It told, too.
But given the inexperience of Kirwan's team and the rapid learning curve they've been on all season, to conclude their buildup with a meritorious victory was just what the doctor ordered.
The Blues, behind tries to Culum Retallick, George Moala, Tom McCartney and Piri Weepu, led 28-19 at the half and snuck home on the back of Baden Kerr's late penalty. All Black Hosea Gear scored a hat-trick for the southerners, who later lamented their inefficiencies at the breakdown.
"It was exactly what we needed," said Kirwan. "We did some good things and there is still plenty to work on. We're not getting carried away and there's still a lot of hard work to do, but it was perfect that the boys went well at this stage."
Crucially, there were no injuries, which leaves Kirwan with a full complement to pick from, barring Anthony Boric who's still a week or two away yet from being game ready.
Kirwan liked the patience his team showed with ball in hand early on and believed clarity around roles and requirements had taken a significant step forward.
"We've been slowly improving through the pre-season and that's the most important thing," he said. "Everyone knows what they need to do, both on attack and defence and in unit work, so that was our goal.
"The other goal was that they took their opportunities and put pressure on us to pick them. And they've done that as well."
The new Blues coach was also rapt that his team had dominated the collision area against a pretty adept Highlanders outfit.
"One of our goals is to make the people who turn up to watch us play feel proud to be Blues people. To do that you've got to show courage and commitment, and I thought we did that. The best place to see that is at ruck time."
Kirwan said he now faced some difficult decisions to settle on a 22 to take on the Hurricanes.
"We've got some real issues, which is good. Some of the younger guys have put their hands up as well. Now it's important we pick the right side this week. There will be some disappointed boys, but that's good. We want them to be disappointed because that means they care."
Better never stops at the Blues.