The excitement in Grant Doorey’s Australian voice is palpable.
On a scorching hot day on Waiheke Island, the Blues assistant coach looked on as the backs ran through their attacking strike moves.
A 40 minute ferry ride from the bustling metropolis of Auckland, the backs escaped the city and headed over to the idyllic island to spend the day working on their strategies and devising some moves, hoping the creative and artistic sides Waiheke is renowned for rubbed off on them.
“I said the first time I had the backs group together that there wouldn’t be any backs coach in Super Rugby that was as excited as me in terms of the quality he had in his room so we’ve got real star quality across the park,” Doorey said.
And it’s not just the obvious names that have been impressing Doorey during pre-season training. Yes the likes of Charles Piutau, Frank Halai and Francis Saili burst onto the scene last year and were rewarded with call-ups to the All Blacks, but it’s some of the other young faces in their second year of Super Rugby that have made an impression.
“I think the level of contribution you notice out of the second year athletes is much better, they’re a little bit more comfortable, a little bit keener to share their ideas, they’re obviously better physically, and technically they’re continuing to make improvements.
“So you should be expecting really positive things out of guys like Albert Nikoro, Pita Ahki, Baden Kerr, Bryn Hall and Jamison Gibson-Park. Then you add to that mix the fact that the All Blacks who have been away on a break – Charles Piutau, Francis Saili and Frank Halai who have all come back, and the experience of guys like Piri Weepu, Benji Marshall and Chris Noakes and you’ve got lots of intellectual property.”
“Top quality pros like Jackson Willison are continually driving the standards of the group and then the young guys are continuing to bridge that gap which makes it really exciting for us.”
And of course the return of All Blacks midfielder Ma’a Nonu really adds firepower to a Blues backline already brimming with talent. “You add someone to the mix like Ma’a Nonu who I haven’t mentioned yet who’s probably the best midfield player in the world right now, it really gives you scope and opportunity to play lots of different ways with lots of different styles. We’ve got the backline to put significant pressure on any team in the competition.”
The key now will be on how Doorey unleashes these exciting and potent attacking players. His focus has been on individual skill execution and ensuring there are threats across the park.
“We’re trying to focus hard on our triple threat game so our ability to run, pass and kick the ball in all options and then really working hard on our individual animation in those plays so that we’ve genuinely got three options available all the time and then consistently our individual skill set within those plays is always critical.” The Blues’ first pre-season game is against the Hurricanes in Masterton on February 1.