Craig Dowd
Benji 'not good enough to start for the Blues'
Craig Dowd
March 18, 2014
Benji Marshall is learning but rugby still is not instinctive to him © Getty Images

Starting well is a vital ingredient to success, but the Blues keep leaving it out of their recipe and they have been paying the price. Their loss to the Lions on Saturday was another example of that.

The first thing that stood out to me was the scrum, which was under a lot of pressure; and that compounded into other areas of the game. They gave the Lions a sniff at home, which they shouldn't have done because you could see the Lions grow in confidence. Add to that two yellow cards and playing with 14 men for 20 minutes, and it didn't help. They showed guts and character in coming back, but you have to look at the way the Blues have started all their games this season.

The Blues conceded yet another start at they lost to the Lions (video available only in Australia)

I'm sure they are addressing and dealing with that, but it is simply the side's mindset. It's not as if you are waiting to wear the opposition down. You go out there to start with the intent you are going to carry on with. Whether it's because they are not quite motivated enough, or they haven't gone through the right preparation as a team, or that it is taking them a while to jell as a team; those are things as a professional that you have just got to button down on.

The scrum is a key area, and the early issues at Ellis Park would have had the forwards a bit dumb-founded and looking at each other trying to find solutions. But while you are trying to find a solution, the game is getting away on you. They need to address that on the training field, but there is no excuse for not having the head right. The first five minutes of any game can carry on for the next 75.

A team like the Lions grow in confidence if you don't lay down that intent in the first five minutes, which is exactly what happened. You could almost see the Lions thinking, "Hey, we never expected we could beat the Blues but all of a sudden we are points up on the board", and they got better.

The Blues gifted Marnitz Boshoff and the Lions early confidence in Johannesburg © Getty Images

Blaming some of the referee's decisions and the TMO call that didn't go their way is an excuse and a cop-out. It was clear after 20 minutes that they needed to pull their socks up and get stuck in. That's how they finished the game, which is good; but it just goes to show it is the top two inches they need to get right.

In the game, I think Benji Marshall still looks a little bit out of place. He had some nice touches, and some very good touches, and he contributed at times, but I can't see him pushing out Charles Piutau for a starting position.

Piutau is world class. He could be an absolute superstar and I think the Blues' 15 is his jersey. Benji Marshall does not have any right to take that off him. With Ma'a Nonu, and possibly Francis Saili, returning this week, what does that do for the backline? Do you push George Moala back out to the wing?

That would leave no room for Marshall.

Marshall's a good player, but he's not good enough to start for the Blues given what's there at the moment. He still looks to be lacking a little bit of confidence in his positional role. It wasn't through a lack of trying against the Lions, and there were times you could see he was busting his gut to get to where he should be; but rugby is still not instinctive to him.

The time is right for the Blues to get Ma'a Nonu on the field © Getty Images

The time is right to get Nonu back on the field. He has come under a lot of criticism in recent years for not firing at Super Rugby level, but there are no excuses after a decent enough break and he has good players all around him in that Blues backline.

I think Simon Hickey deserves to start at fly-half. With Nonu outside him, it is a great Blues backline. And, unfortunately, for someone who looked a little bit old, a little bit tired, the selection of Bryn Hall would not surprise ahead of Piri Weepu. He's not looking the Piri Weepu of old at the moment, and I wonder if time is catching up on him and the young fellows are coming through.

Jerome Kaino will bolster the side. He is a hard man of Blues and world rugby. He's got a reputation and is a feared man on the field. I think Jerome Kaino walking out onto the field will solidify and reinforce the Blues' forward pack, and he will put fear into the opposition.

Stephen Luatua, whom I thought had a really good game against the Lions, and who has stepped up his game in the past couple of weeks, will work in really well with Kaino. That could be tough on Peter Saili, who has had a pretty good season knowing there would be competition for his spot. But Kaino is world class, and the Blues need someone like him.

Of the other New Zealand teams at this stage, I think the Hurricanes have been hurting; but to go out and respond to the criticism in the only way they should was well done, and I think it goes to show they care. When the fans get stuck in, there is only one way you have to respond - and that is by performance. I tip my hat to the way they went out and answered their fans.

The Highlanders have again been so close. They've shown a lot more grit this season, but it is just a case of them buckling down and getting those wins. Their game against the Canes this weekend is massive for both teams.

I think all the coaches, bar those for the Chiefs, will be looking at the inconsistency of all their teams and wanting some sort of consolidation from here on.

The Chiefs look the goods. Playing them is a bit like playing the Crusaders of old; you just know you are probably going to lose when you play them. They are playing like the champions and wearing their crown with pride. Right across the park they all buy-in to playing for each other, and that is what you want.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd

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