Blues young guns firing with consistency

LIAM NAPIER
Last updated 11:23 03/03/2013
Blues
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JK'S BOYS FLYING HIGH: The Blues have shocked with the way they've started the Super Rugby season, with Frank Halai on the wing impressing.
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It's the blissful balance that's most surprising.

This Blues' backline are playing with experience well beyond their years.

With veteran halfback Piri Weepu pulling the strings, unheralded first-five Chris Noakes proving a calming influence, and France-bound Rene Ranger setting a blockbusting example, Francis Saili, 22, Charles Piutau, 21, and late-blooming wing Frank Halai, 24, are not only demonstrating their lethal brilliance, but making smart decisions and growing with every success.

Few expected the trio to be immediately comfortable, so at ease at this level. And, sure, greater tests will come. Weaknesses will be uncovered. But one can only commend the poise displayed thus far.

It's a fine line - striking a balance between having a crack and taking the conservative route.

In two upset victories over the Hurricanes and All Black-laden Crusaders to open their season, Saili, Piutau and Halai, with four tries, have shown the ability to play within a team pattern - a common goal.

Patience is not an attribute often associated with youth. You'd more expect them to scoff a cheeseburger without stopping for a breath, or hurry to their next task.

Most notice the eye-catching breaks, offloads, tries, speed, strength and counter-attacking flair. But it's moments like Piutau's heady nudge into the Eden Park corner on Friday, after being positioned to swallow Dan Carter's kick, that hints at the true potential of this budding combination. These are no one-trick ponies.

"It's not all about running. Although we are trying to experiment and have the confidence to run from anywhere, at the same time it's about pulling in the reins and making smart decisions," Weepu said.

"We've got a lot of inexperienced players, especially in the backline.

"It's about encouraging them to express themselves while playing within a structure."

The All Blacks halfback isn't a fan of flash-in-the-pan hit songs. He knows the critics suggest the Blues will fall over soon, to waste their promising start that no-one predicted. "It's a great start. I don't think people expected us to be as tight and committed as we have been," he said.

"This young bunch of boys . . . it's about trying to get them to understand how much this means as a team to go out there every week and perform, and not just be a two-hit wonder. We need that consistency.

"You can't win the season right now. The senior players know what it's like - we've been through many full campaigns. Those boys at a young age, in their early 20s, they'll be raring to go every week. A lot of them have a taste of it now."

Weepu has an integral role to play this season, both on and off the field. In tandem with Ranger and captain Ali Williams, he's attempting to delegate leadership duties to the prodigies, give them a sense of ownership. That way, they feel empowered and confident to express opinions and mature with experiences.

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"I found when I first started it was tough to open up. Rene and I have been trying to get these young guys to have an opinion. We're trying to be open minded about everything."

That sense of unity may create a shared belief which ensures the Blues' early success isn't fleeting, like many suspect.

- Sunday News

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