Weepu feeling trim and motivated at Blues
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Motivation is up and weight down as Piri Weepu is doing everything he can to keep things on the level with the Blues this Super Rugby season.
The 29-year-old 69-test All Black was a bit of a problem child for the Blues last season, his first with the franchise after shifting north from the Hurricanes in a contentious move.
He never really recovered from a prolonged post-World Cup celebration which saw him present for Super Rugby duty under-prepared, overweight and lacking a little for motivation.
As a result he struggled to make the impact he was capable of for the struggling Auckland franchise.
Twelve months on it's fair to say Weepu's attitude has changed in a big way as he's put in a lot more work over the off-season and presented to new Blues coach Sir John Kirwan in the sort of condition that Pat Lam could only have dreamed about.
Losing your starting All Black spot will do that to a player. So will pride.
Weepu admitted, ahead of this week's competition-opener against the Hurricanes, his mindset was vastly different as he entered a campaign where he's very much a senior figure in a vastly inexperienced Blues squad.
"This year I'm probably a bit more motivated - I've done a lot of stuff outside of the camp to be in better nick than I was last year," he said.
It wasn't about skinfold numbers or beep tests times, added Weepu, but about the condition you were in to do the things you need to on the field.
"This time last year I was quite overweight. This year I'm nowhere near that sort of weight and condition. I'm a lot trimmer, a lot fitter, and that's the mentality I had before the get-go," he said.
"I've just got to be better for these younger boys, and help them out. It's going to be a key role because the average age in the backline is not 27, it's like 21 or 22. I'll be passing on any knowledge I can."
Kirwan was unequivocal when asked to describe the influence Weepu was already showing in a squad which would need every bit of senior influence they could get.
"Outstanding would be one word," said Kirwan.
"Great leadership, great guidance of the young guys, great input into what we're doing as a team.
"I didn't know Piri [before coming here], but I'd heard a lot of great things about him. He's been brilliant ... sharing his knowledge, and he's been helping us drive the attack. I can't speak highly enough of him."
Weepu did show he hadn't lost his mischievous side when he admitted it was somewhat ironic that he was now the one trying to set positive examples for his team-mates.
"Everyone has their flaws," he shrugged.
He insisted leadership was something he felt had always been in his repertoire, but he hadn't always needed to call on in other teams.
"If everyone is doing their job, I don't really need to open my mouth," he said.
"The majority of players we like to speak with our actions and hopefully it leads the way for the boys."
Weepu also understood that with a backline greener than the Highlanders away strip, he had to take on more responsibility.
"Last year we took a lot of things for granted, and probably didn't help the younger boys as much as we probably should have," he said.
"It's a bigger responsibility for myself and Rene [Ranger] to help these younger boys in terms of guidance and leadership around the field."
Weepu was also asked about the presence, and influence, of a certain Sir Graham Henry among the Blues coaching setup.
"He doesn't look as grumpy," joked a player Henry ended up being fiercely loyal to with the All Blacks.
"I remember my first year with the All Blacks, it was quite hard to approach Ted. But now he's a bit more relaxed, and it's a bit easier for some of these boys to talk to him."
Don't underestimate Henry's presence in this Blues setup. The former All Blacks coach has a history of getting the best out of Weepu.
And Weepu's best will be sorely needed this season.
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