Sunday, March 3, 2024

Auks offer Blues some hope

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With six Mitre Cup rugby wins to date, unbeaten Auckland are playing a superior pass and catch game than the Blues have managed for too many fumbling years.

That is a tribute to new coach Alama Ieremia who has among his assistants experienced former Blues and All Blacks coach, Sir Graham Henry.

Making a good fist of captaining the team is 23-year-old Pakuranga second-five Tinoai Faiane who, along with flanker clubmate Dalton Papali’i, was one of the stars in the latest 31-30 triumph against Taranaki.

Halfback Jonathan Ruru and goalkicking first-five Harry Plummer combine nicely and there is plenty of attacking thrust offered by centre Tumua Manu, fullback Jordon Trainor and wings Salesi Rayasi and Melani Nanai.

There is a lot of talent among that lot but most will struggle to make the Blues’ starting 15 next year when head coach Tana Umaga will have the highly regarded Leon MacDonald and Tom Courtney as his assistants.

The acquisition of North Harbour and Chiefs All Black prop Karl Tu’inukuafe will present the Blues with a powerful front row along with Ofa Tu’ungafasi and James Parsons.

Lock Patrick Tuipulotu will be the third All Black in the pack and prolific try-scoring No 8 Akira Ioane and No 7 Blake Gibson are highly regarded.

Although the loss of Jerome Kaino’s experience will hurt, the depth is there to produce a strong pack of forwards.

Auckland are playing a better game than the Blues thanks to new coach Alama Ieremia. Photo Sky Sports

The return of Ma’a Nonu as 33-year-old Sonny Bill Williams’ midfield partner, offers great experience but is a gamble with Nonu turning 37 next year, four years after he starred for the All Blacks in their 2015 World Cup campaign.

On that occasion he scored some amazing tries when SBW came off the bench to produce some exquisite off-loads.

Unfortunately the luckless Williams has played little rugby because of a series of injuries since the 2016 Rio Olympics. This year he’s played just six Super Rugby games and one test against France.

Should either of the veterans fail to go the course, the impressive Faiane is capable of stepping into the breech and doing a fine job.

Hopefully coach Umaga will return classy speedster Rieko Ioane to the wing instead of experimenting with him in the midfield.

Ironically, Auckland are playing a far more cohesive game than the Blues have managed thanks largely to their more accurate passing which is also a feature of the Super Rugby champion Crusaders.

Meanwhile the appointment of coach Noeline Taurua and captain Laura Langman has given the Silver Ferns a much needed boost despite starting the Quad Series with a heavy loss to England.

That was followed by a massive win against South Africa (who took England to the wire) and a brave 60-55 loss to the champion Australian Diamonds whose international rookies rose to the occasion spectacularly.

The inability of the Ferns to combat the height and accuracy of shooters Caitlin Bassett and Gretel Tippett proved the decisive factor.

While the lively Langman offered the midfield snap and direction and Maria Folau goaled beautifully against a tight, robust defence, the Diamonds had too much speed and cohesion throughout the court.

However it was a massive improvement on the Ferns’ dismal Commonwealth Games failure although coach Taurua will know that this Australian team looks set to rule the roost for a long time.

  • Ivan Agnew is an award-winning sports writer and author

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