Blues Season Review
It's that time again, the season review.
The forwards can be done quickly enough, they were pretty good this year, but lacked a bit of polish and effective leadership.
Loosehead props are quality, so long as Karl T keeps his fitness up. Hooker is the obvious gap here. Lets hope that Taukei'aho and Abel are on their way. Mike Sosene-Feagai was solid for Auckland, but that's not enough. At tighthead more depth is needed. Mafileo is a bit limited and inconsistent, and Renata is inexperienced - really hoping he steps up a notch in the NPC. Marco Fepulea'i showed a lot of promise in last year's NPC. Really looking forward to watching him in this year's.
Locks are pretty solid, but we lack impact without Tuipulotu starting. Scrafton, coming back from a very serious injury, didn't have quite his usual impact, but was still good. Will be missed. Goodhue lacks "mongrel" but plays quite well in patches. GCT is a decent squad member but nothing special. Pierce didn't make it on to the field. So, we want a high workrate, mobile, technically skilled player to complement Tuipulotu (i.e. a Whitelock type), and a power lock to back him up. Whetton and Pari Pari Parkinson are both unsigned for next season, IIRC. Is Olmstead availabe? We really should've booted the perma-injured and mediocre Tupou for him. Some more leadership in this position would be great.
Loose forwards were good too, though we do lack a bit of pressure over the ball. Gibson in his come-back season didn't produce enough turnovers, though was solid. Sotutu looks like a good back-up 8. Papalii is shaping up to be a gun at six, and Robinson is handy. Havili and Choat will be interesting to watch in the NPC. Hunt may want to move too, but do we want him? Has looked a bit small in the most recent NPC and Super Rugby seasons. Good for turnovers off the bench? Waimana Riedlinger-Kapa seems like the real deal.
The backs require a lot more changes, and they were generally pretty poor this year, whether it was failing to exit their 22, putting pressure on the 1st 5 and midfield with slow ball, defensive lapses, or failing to be either accurate on attack or able to recognise the opportunities that were in front of them.
It all starts at 9. Poor box-kicking, poor options, slow passes (often for intercepts from the ruck!). Consistently making it hard on the team, failing to exert pressure, and tiring the forwards out with big defensive shifts. Pulu is gone, and Ruru, despite having his moments, is not at Super Rugby quality in his core skills. Sam Nock stopped being afraid of the ball (he has been really dreadful for several years), and showed his skills for a short period of time before getting injured. Bryn Hall, Jonathan Taumateine, and Jamie Booth might be available. Personally, I think that Leon Fukofuka has much better skills than Ruru. Lewis Gjaltema was the top-dog in the B's. Taufa Funaki is the U20's player coming through.
The 10s are OK, but are playing outside of poor halfbacks. Black has a journeyman ceiling IMO, and the other two are both inexperienced. Plummer does a lot of things well, but has developed a serious goal-kicking problem, and lacks a bit of polish. Outside a good halfback, and with a year of development, he could be a really good player at this level. Perofeta might be better spending a season learning the game at 15.
Midfield - well, they did OK without a centre. Faiane should be playing 12, with a genuine 13 in place. Nonu and SBW will be gone, so who will be the recruits? Tele'a looks promising, and is a worthy squad member, but I'd want a more polished player there next year. Definitely want Manu back - he will be a lot better for one season's experience.
Back Three. Well, Duffy looks past it. Clarke improved his skills and awareness, now he needs to back himself more. Tele'a was handy but raw. We missed a trick on Rayasi. Scott Gregory to cover wing and midfield? If Trainor doesn't step up, I really don't know who we will recruit for fullback. Etene Nanai-Seturo is unsigned, but I'm not sure about his quality. Maybe Jordie Barrett? 😉
Overall, if we don't fill the holes, especially at halfback, it will be difficult to be anything more than quarter-finalists. The coach must back his squad and adequately rotate players and use replacements too. I hope some patron is breaking out the cheque book...