Kirwan calls on Willison to steady Blues
April 3, 2013
Blues coach John Kirwan has rung in the changes © Getty Images
Blues coach John Kirwan is calling for clear heads and good decision-making for their clash with the winless Highlanders on Friday.
For weeks Kirwan has expressed concern over his players' interpretation of game situations and feels poor choices have put them under unnecessary pressure.
After suffering three consecutive losses, he decided to act on his suspicions and the sectoral axe fell on two players. Keven Mealamu could make his long-awaited Super Rugby return for the Blues after being named on the bench, relegating Quentin MacDonald to the Blues Development side.
Outstanding flanker Steven Luatua retains his spot in the No.6 jersey, while Baden Kerr's brief cameo in last weekend's 23-16 loss to the Chiefs at Mount Maunganui wasn't enough to see him promoted to the starting side.
Francis Saili has been dismissed from the starting XV to make way for the "experienced" Jackson Willison in the crucial position of inside centre.
The Maori All Black is set to create a "different balance" in the Blues backline, and with five seasons of Super Rugby lessons under his belt, he is a perfect fit for Kirwan's brief.
"We just need a little bit more experience in the midfield, a bit more talk, a bit more direction," Kirwan said on Wednesday.
"That's what we're asking Jacko [Willison] to do; bring all that experience that he's got with his voice. A bit more command."
After their 23-16 loss in Mount Maunganui, Kirwan openly admitted the game plan was inadequate and allowed the Chiefs to maintain their dominance in defence.
Perhaps even more impressive was his decision to evolve the philosophy he had preached all pre-season by instructing his men to start kicking for field position at half-time.
Kirwan's willingness to shunt his own ego in the interest of bettering the team sits well with his players, including star fullback Charles Piutau, who welcomed the change with open arms.
"In the first two games, teams have seen what we can do with the ball and obviously they're going to find ways to stop us from doing that," Piutau said. "As players we're working on reading [situations] as the game goes so that we can fix things then and there."
The Blues have not won since their upset over the Crusaders a month ago and while they are in no mood to continue the losing streak, they are wary of a Highlanders outfit that is even more desperate after losing every game so far this season.
Their 0-5 record is by no means a reflection of their ability and Kirwan said his men will not be deceived into thinking a win will come easy.
"They're seriously dangerous; we're going to have a great game to beat them," Kirwan said. "We've got a whole lot of great footballers against us that are hurting. I'm good mates with [Highlanders coach] Jamie Joseph and I know how proud he is. This is a huge game for us."
Blues: Charles Piutau; Frank Halai, Rene Ranger, Jackson Willison, George Moala; Chris Noakes, Piri Weepu; Peter Saili, Luke Braid, Steven Luatua; Ali Williams (captain), Culum Retallick; Angus Ta'avao, James Parsons, Tom McCartney. Replacements: Keven Mealamu, Ofa Tu'ungafasi, Anthony Boric, Brendon O'Connor, Jamison Gibson-Park, Baden Kerr, Francis Saili.