It’s fair to say everyone’s really excited the season has finally rolled around. For some of the players it’s been the longest break they’ve had in the last few years. There’s been a lot of hard work, training and three pre-season games but now it all begins and I already sense the excitement and the edge which is pleasing.
We signed off on our pre-season campaign with a 29-12 victory over the Highlanders on Friday and it was a really good hit-out. A lot was made after the game about the breakdown and we knew they would come hard at us there. We had SANZAR referees’ boss Lyndon Bray in last week which was really beneficial as he explained to the players what was acceptable and what the referees would be looking for this season.
We’d implemented a lot of stuff already from the coaches conference with the referees the week before so when Lyndon came he was able to reinforce that and show clips so the boys got a really good idea of what will be allowed and what won’t. Players will always push the limits but we’ve made a conscious decision during pre-season training to penalise the boys for things that the referees are looking at.
We’re really tough on them at training which has made the game easier for them because if we allow them to get away with it at training and they create these habits then our penalty count is going to rise.
As far as the interpretations go, nothing has changed, it’s just the referees are putting a bigger emphasis on key areas such as sealing, going through the gate and the tackler and tackler assist not releasing the ball which will allow the game to flow better and be a better product for everybody so we’re very supportive of it.
The work we’ve done in this area was evident against the Highlanders on Friday where the penalty count ended up being 20 to the Highlanders and seven to us. Even Highlanders loose forward Adam Thomson highlighted it was an area they needed to tidy up because while I applaud their commitment at the breakdown, it needs to be legal and it needs to be a fair contest.
There were things to tidy up following Friday’s game – we didn’t take shots at goal which could have punished their penalties more but we had clear objectives in mind to keep getting through our systems, giving guys game time and covering off things that we need to going into this week. All-in-all we’re happy, we know that the results aren’t important in pre-season, it’s more important about what we do, but getting those three wins was a bonus because it always helps build confidence. However it all begins this week when the points are on offer.
Just an injury update following Friday’s game against the Highlanders. Jerome Kaino took a scratch to the eye and actually had blood coming out so he was rushed straight to hospital after the match and thankfully while it was still bad, it wasn’t as bad as it could have been.
He’s had an eye patch for the last four days and he’s done some training but not really any contact which allows him to be ready for the game so he’ll be out there which is great news for us. Unfortunately Lachie Munro suffered a high ankle strain in the last five minutes of the game so he’ll be unavailable this week but we’re hoping he’ll be fit in time for selection next week.
Following the game we had a fantastic day out at Orakei Domain on Sunday which you can watch on the website here – there is some great vision and it was just a snapshot of what went on down there. We got some great emails from the fans that turned up which was brilliant and we really appreciate them taking the time out to write us these letters.
The players were great, they really enjoyed themselves and I think the key is that rather than just showing up and signing autographs, the kids were able to come along and enjoy running around with the players and I’m really proud of the way the players handled themselves, they were excellent.
A lot of them are great dads already and some of them who don’t have kids are going to be fantastic dads one day so it was a joy as a coach to watch their involvement and their interaction – †it’s all part of their character building which is fantastic.
Also those who went down to the ‘Meet the Blues Day’ would have seen the Blue Army down there and as I mentioned in last week’s Coach’s Corner they will be launching this week and they’ve got their chants ready to go and their group is building nicely. Go on their website and check them out because at the end of the day their main vision is to create an atmosphere which is going to support the team and where people can enjoy themselves so get in behind them.
Like I said last week, if you’re a part of the Blue Army and dressed in blue going crazy, you could be one of a few fans who come into the changing room to meet the players straight after the game.
The pricing structure is fantastic as well ñ you can grab a True Blues four pack for just $59 for adults or $20 for kids, and single tickets for Friday’s match start from $18 for adults and $5 for kids. A lot of people have commented on how it’s such a good bargain so come on down and enjoy the occasion.
A lot of people have also been asking me about Ma’a Nonu and how he’s going. His season in Japan with the Ricoh Black Rams has come to an end and he will be heading home towards the end of the week. He had another son while he was in Japan so he’s waiting to get his son’s passport so he can get into the country and he’ll then go through assessments and join the group.
The beauty of us going to South Africa in round three and four is that it’s a good chance for him to get into the new environment, meet the players and be ready to go. There’s nothing like touring as a way of getting to know each other and while he knows a few guys here, it’s a chance for the rest of the team to get to know him.
As far as the Crusaders go, it’s always a great fixture and as you can see on the website with this video clip of our clashes in years gone by. It was a fantastic start for us last year and obviously the plan is to repeat that on Friday. Both sides are stacked with All Blacks and it’s a game we always look forward to, there’s always a good rivalry there and both teams have an opportunity to set the standard of Super Rugby for the season ahead.
The selection of the team was very challenging – every week I want some challenges and we certainly had that this week. The pre-season games were good at identifying where everyone is at condition-wise and in their game readiness ahead of such a big game and as we weighed all that up we believe this is the strongest team to put out there.†
Within our forward pack there’s a lot of experience, even though we don’t have Woody. Tom McCartney comes in after a couple of strong performances in the pre-season and he’ll play loosehead prop – it’s a real bonus Tom can play both hooker and prop. Kevvie came back and had a good 40 minute hit-out so he’s keen and raring to go. Chris Lowrey comes back into the side after some solid performances and across the board there’s a really good balance.
Michael Hobbs impressed in the last game and throughout the pre-season and he’s in great nick so he will start at 10. There was really good competition for the number 10 jersey and Piri showed his class but we feel as he continues to come back like the other All Blacks it is best to bring him off the bench.
In the highly competitive outside backs, David Raikuna has put his hand up first. He had a very good game against the Highlanders so he’s earned his spot on the right wing. With Sherwin Stowers getting injured in the Rebels game it has given David the chance to start and take the opportunity to do it in the big game so all in all we’re pretty pleased with the team we’ve named.
It’s great to have Brad Mika back in the 22. I’ve had a long association with him during my time as coach of the Auckland side before he went to Japan and to be able to coach him again is great. The leadership he brings on and off the field is superb and to see him back is brilliant. Everyone talked about Ali last year after two years out through injury and Brad’s also had some horrendous injuries that he’s worked himself back from so to return to the field is a real credit to him. Having the experience of Brad and Piri off the bench is a real bonus, and the same goes with Luke Braid. He only had his first game back last week after shoulder surgery so to have the Blues Player of the Year last year coming off the bench is an asset.
I hope to see you all down at Eden Park on Friday night cheering for the Blues dressed in blue, waving your flag, joining in the chants and going crazy for the team in what promises to be a brilliant opening to Super Rugby in 2012.
Until next time