Blues head coach Sir John Kirwan gave his side, and new recruit Benji Marshall, a big tick of approval following their pre-season hit-out against the Hurricanes in Masterton on Saturday.
The Blues may have succumbed to a 38-35 defeat after Hurricanes lock James Broadhurst crashed over with eight minutes to go to clinch the victory, but there were many aspects of play which pleased Kirwan, none more so than the performance of his new pivot.
“I thought he was great,” Kirwan said of Marshall as throngs of supporters spilled onto the Memorial Park turf post-match.
“The whole team played really well. I thought he blended in incredibly well and ran the team so for his first hit-out he should be really proud. He’s worked hard so I was really pleased for him but we did some really good stuff today so I’m happy all round.”
The former Wests Tigers playmaker certainly seemed unawed by the occasion or pressure as he marshalled the team around the field well and put Tevita Li over for a try in a promising, if not impressive, 40 minute spell.
But that didn’t surprise his head coach in the slightest.
“I was hoping this was going to happen and it’s happening. He’s worked incredibly hard so I think today was a good start from him. There are still little bits to work on but I think for his first hit-out in rugby for 16 or so years it was a good start.
“He did some great things naturally from a rugby point of view, I thought he came round the corner and was flat and hard at the line which was good. He had a go early so there were some real positive signs there. There’s a bit to work on but I think right across the park we’ve got a bit to work on but it was a really positive start.”
Kirwan identified the ruck as a key area for his side to focus on as they were blown off the ball on a number of occasions and were guilty of turning over too much possession which led to tries.
“We need to clean up our turnover and ruck situation which we haven’t done a lot of but I was happy with the set piece, I was happy with our strikes, I thought we defended ok besides when we turned it over so it was a good hit-out.”
Shifting from his regular position of wing to centre, George Moala had a sublime game, having a hand in two tries and scoring one himself as he carved up the Hurricanes midfield.
Kirwan said he, along with 18-year-old livewire wing Tevita Li, were standouts.†
“George was probably one of the players of the day today. I thought Tevita Li who’s one of our youngest players really stood up and I thought George was outstanding at centre.
“He’s got great feet, good speed so I think for us to try moving him from wing to centre and for him to stand up like that was a pretty good start.”
And while the spotlight was on star first-five Benji Marshall, Kirwan said he was very impressed with North Harbour’s Matt McGahan who had been brought in as an apprentice and stepped in to fill the void at first five-eighths.
“Baden took a knock and had to go off but Matt McGahan did incredibly well, he’s been training at second-five all week because we want him to play a little bit there as a bit of versatility for us but he stepped in when Baden got a knock.
“He played incredibly well so like I said I thought our systems on attack were looking good, I thought we defended pretty well besides when we turned the ball over so it was a really positive day.”
The Blues face the Waratahs in Sydney on Friday in their second pre-season trial.