Former All Blacks first five-eighth Andrew Mehrtens has sprung to the defence of Benji Marshall as the high profile league convert continues to make an underwhelming transition to Super Rugby with the Blues.
Although Marshall has been largely consigned to the bench since the former Wests Tigers star attempted the reinvent his footballing career in the 15-man code, Mehrtens believes the 29-year-old is still capable of succeeding.
"He really hasn't had much opportunity, I think (critics) need to cut him a little bit of slack," Mehrtens said.
"He's learning a new game, you know what it's like. There are a lot of skills that cross over from league to rugby and vice versa, but you've got to get the feel of the game."
Mehrtens, who played 70 tests in the pivot position for the All Blacks, argued Marshall's bold move to leave the NRL had been undermined by the Blues decision to play him at No 10 in pre-season trials.
"I think that was a bit unfair on him," the Fairfax Media columnist said on Fox Sports Rugby HQ last night.
"You don't want a guy like that who's just a natural ball-player and a skilled, skilled guy, you don't want him tied down with organisation or trying to run the rest of the team.
"Give him a bit of freedom, put him at 15 and let him come in. He showed a lot of energy in that first week against the Highlanders. He wants to run angles, once they get used to running off him I think it'll make a massive difference."
Mehrtens surprised his fellow panelists by rating Marshall's performance so far as "about a seven or eight" but acknowledged the former Kiwis captain's cross-field running - a trademark of his league career - would be ineffective until his teammates realised what angles to run off him.
"I remember playing against like Carlos Spencer, and he was a genius with the ball in hand," Mehrtens said of his long-term rival for the All Blacks No 10 jersey.
"But he wasn't that effective until the other guys started learning how to run off him and react to his play.
"He (Marshall) just needs more game time. Honestly, I think stick with him. Give him more and more time on the field. He may not be a starting XV guy but give him the time on the field and have a bit of patience with him."
Marshall has been named on the bench for tonight's round eight clash with the Brumbies in Canberra.
- Fairfax Media
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