Benji Marshall still on L plates in Super Rugby

LIAM NAPIER
Last updated 05:00 21/02/2014
Benji Marshall
PETER MEECHAM/Fairfax NZ
NEW BLUE: There's been big interest in Benji Marshall since he made the move to rugby union.

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In the end it was an easy, mutual decision.

Handing Benji Marshall the Blues' No 10 jersey in Dunedin this Saturday would be akin to whipping off the training wheels after three brief practice runs.

No-one wants to witness a catastrophic crash.

With the Highlanders' flankers warming their itchy shoulders, and Marshall's rugby tuition still in its infancy, that was a very real prospect.

Blues coach Sir John Kirwan doesn't need to severely dent his prized recruit's confidence in his first genuine game of the season.

The reliable Chris Noakes was the natural selection at pivot this week, with Marshall to come off the bench.

As Kirwan and Marshall reiterated yesterday, there is no rush.

Right now, there's no point throwing Marshall - still learning to stay afloat on the rugby field - in the deep without water-wings.

"I'm not ready for 10 at Super Rugby level yet," the former Wests Tigers and Kiwis captain honestly offered.

"I'm realistic about this whole switch. I've played three 40-minute halves at 10 and only one of them I felt was any good. I've still got a lot to learn.

"As much as I'd love to start, I don't feel I'm the best person for that job at the moment.

"When I first came over I knew it was going to be a battle to be in the team. I'm happy just to be in the side. Noakes is probably the best man to play 10 for the side. Me being on the bench, to not be over exposed and give me time to learn the game, is probably best."

When he first started training in November, Marshall had limited knowledge of what a ruck was, let alone the complex responsibilities a first five-eighth must master, or the myriad defensive patterns he would confront.

"Everything has been so much harder," he said. "I thought there would be a lot of similarities to league but there's nothing similar. The technicalities are so much different. I'm learning something new every day but I've still got a long way to go."

This weekend Marshall is likely to come on at fullback, where he's played just 15 minutes, in Rotorua last week.

Fullback was always the sensible option, though.

There the 28-year-old has more time to observe, without the pressure of running the back-line. "Fifteen is probably easier in terms of not having to think about too much and implement game-plans, but I've only played 15 minutes there so I don't really know how to play there.

"It's a long-term goal for me to be 10 but at this time I'm just not ready."

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Former Wallaby Mat Rogers and, to a much lesser extent, Italian international Craig Gower are the only notable league players to have success at No 10. It's no easy task. Certainly not one Kirwan expects Marshall to grasp right away.

"A lot of other players that have come across have taken a couple of years, others have gone overseas before coming to Super Rugby," Kirwan said. "We want Benji to be here for a long time. We need to make sure he knows enough about the game.

"This is a long-term prospect for me. I've said that right from the start. I'm not going to expose him."

Elsewhere, the only selection surprise came in the front-row, where Ofa Tu'ungafasi will make his first start at loose-head prop, while All Black Tony Woodcock takes this week off. Jackson Willison gets the nod at centre and while All Black Charles Piutau did not train yesterday, he is expected to recover from a knee injury.

Blues: Charles Piutau, Frank Halai, Jackson Willison Francis Saili, George Moala, Chris Noakes, Piri Weepu; Peter Saili, Luke Braid (c), Steven Luatua, Tom Donnelly, Liaki Moli, Charlie Faumuina, James Parsons, Ofa Tu'ungafasi. Reserves: Tom McCartney, Sam Prattley, Angus Ta'avao, Patrick Tuipulotu, Brendon O'Connor, Bryn Hall, Benji Marshall, Tevita Li.

- Fairfax Media

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