Time ripe for enigmatic Blues to strut their stuff

LIAM NAPIER
Last updated 05:00 22/03/2014

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Eden Park will be littered with colour tonight.

Much like a toddler eyeing the pristine family wall, the Cheetahs present the perfect canvas to let the Blues cut loose with the crayons.

Even forecast rain should not wash away the explosion of flair.

Don't expect the finished product to be a masterpiece, though.

On attack, at least, the South Africans are a dangerous beast. And these talented Blues are prone to the odd brain fade.

Sir John Kirwan's rollercoaster will continue, but he will bank on being able to hang this result on the wall as a turning point in his side's season.

After three losses from four attempts, it needs to be. The last-placed visitors, who have just one win from five games, must be dispatched. Anything less and the Blues are in serious strife. Even at this early stage.

The Hurricanes showed last week just how flimsy the Cheetahs can be. Sixty points is a massacre in anyone's book.

In Springboks flier Willie le Roux the boys from Bloemfontein have one of the best counter-attackers. Halfback Sarel Pretorius will snipe around the fringes and look to play the game at pace. First five-eighth Johan Goosen likes to take on the line, and hooker Adriaan Strauss is a workaholic.

Tackling, however, is largely a foreign concept. Already this year they've conceded 19 tries – four more than the Blues.

"They've leaked points but we'll have to construct our attack well," recalled first-five Simon Hickey noted. "We're also aware of their attack. They've got some awesome wide-to-wide play."

This match suits the Blues' style. Kirwan encourages his men to back their natural talents and express themselves. Give their lethal back-three – Charles Piutau, Frank Halai and Tevita Li – space to wind up and they'll instantly cut you to threads. Just ask the Crusaders.

"For any back you see space and you get excited," Piutau said. "A free-flowing game is what the other guys and I love."

First, though, the Blues forward pack must be more direct.

The Cheetahs' wide defence leaves holes up the middle, begging to be exposed.

Using underrated captain Luke Braid and Peter Saili to punch holes and suck in defenders allows Steven Luatua, who'll be conscious of the need to lift his game with Jerome Kaino back, to roam wide. Bringing Halai and Li back on the angle may also prove successful.

Midfield remains a concern. Constant changes suggest Kirwan is not comfortable there, though Ma'a Nonu should soon solve this problematic area.

Piri Weepu is also on notice after Bryn Hall's livewire efforts from the bench last week. Weepu will realise the need to lift his laboured delivery.

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The Blues upped the physicality at training this week, in the hope it will amend their shockingly slow starts. A repeat of the 23-point lead they gifted the Lions would be inexcusable.

Kirwan's men were, however, unlucky to lose that match, a poor TMO decision robbing them of seven crucial points. The stirring comeback also demonstrated their attacking prowess. And if they can replicate that 40-minute effort for the full 80, any team will have trouble containing them.

"We are close to everything clicking," Piutau predicted.

Consistency is the major challenge.

The experienced heads of Kaino and Nonu will assist in this aspect. Both will significantly lift the tempo, firepower and physicality from the bench, while the hot-stepping Benji Marshall could also create havoc late in the contest.

Set the building blocks early for the first time this year, bring on the superstar reserves for the knockout blow, and Kirwan's canvas might finally increase in value.

AT A GLANCE

BLUES: Charles Piutau, Frank Halai, George Moala, Jackson Willison, Tevita Li, Simon Hickey, Piri Weepu, Peter Saili, Luke Braid, Steven Luatua, Tom Donnelly, Liaki Moli, Charlie Faumuina, James Parsons, Tony Woodcock. Reserves: Tom McCartney, Angus Ta'avao, Ofa Tu'ungafasi, Jerome Kaino, Hayden Triggs, Bryn Hall, Ma'a Nonu, Benji Marshall

CHEETAHS: Willie le Roux, Cornal Hendricks, Johann Sadie, Ryno Benjamin, Hennie Daniller, Johan Goosen, Sarel Pretorius, Philip van der Walt, Jean Cook, Boom Prinsloo, Francois Uys, Lodewyk de Jager, Maks van Dyk, Adriaan Strauss (c ), Caylib Oosthuizen. Reserves: Ryno Barnes, Trevor Nyakane, Rossouw de Klerk, Andries Ferreira, Lappies Labuschagne, Shaun Venter, Elgar Watts, Howard Mnisi 


- Fairfax Media

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