3 Jun

All the small things
by Rob Wallace
3 Jun 2002

Face it, the Blues were yet again underachievers in 2002. They promised a great deal preseason but never achieved the consistency needed to muscle into the top 4. The pack faded a little as the season progressed, and errors slipped in as they started to do the basic small things poorly. For Glenn Taylor, captaincy and a starting position came a year or 2 too late as he struggled to keep pace with the game. Meeuws and Woodcock were the star performers in the pack, while the loose forwards never achieved any real cohesiveness through injury and team changes. In the backs, Spencer probably tried to do a little too much and, Gear apart, the midfield was uninspiring. Again, team changes and injury prevented any major progress.

The greater Auckland region has plenty of talent but fails to fully utilise it. The best example of this is the continual stream of Auckland rejects, who when drafted into the Canterbury system, usually produce outstanding performances. So it’s not the players.

Having the same NPC and S12 team, as Canterbury do, and to some extent Otago also, is clearly helpful in terms of continuity and teamwork, yet international teams have no problem overcoming this, so it can’t be the whole reason for the Crusaders success.

Four different coaches over the last 4 seasons have not helped the Blues. The ever-changing coaching and management staff of the Blues have done nothing
to provide any continuity or direction, in contrast to teams like the Crusaders, and have probably been harmful. The last thing the Blues need right now is another coach. The touting of Graham Henry as coach for next year will not solve anything, despite the fact he’s one of the top 3-4 coaches in NZ.

Teams like the Hurricanes and the Blues need to formulate a 3-5 year plan and stick with it. Giving the franchise 2-3 seasons of consistent selections and coaching, with an aim to develop a proper franchise squad, with a core of experience, and to bring through over those 2-3 years a core of new young talent to fill any gaps at S12 level. To do this they need consistency at management, selectorial and coaching levels, and have everyone buy in on the plan.

I think the Blues need to be proactive about this. They should run Blues training squads for the top 30 players, especially those not involved in the ABs, throughout the year, and encourage another 8-10 promising development players to be involved in these sessions. They should petition the NZRFU to allow the Blues area to protect up to 36 players from the draft to build depth, and they need to target weak areas like the midfield now and develop or buy the players they need.

As for 2003, the Blues need to decide where Spencer will play, find more midfielders, develop a decent loose forward trio who complement each other, and develop a sense of teamwork. It’s a big ask, the players are there, but the small things need attention.