Spotlight on loose forwards

Spotlight on loose forwards

The 2016 Blues loose forwards bring an almost unprecedented depth across the three positions. The experience and leadership of Jerome Kaino, Tanerau Latimer and Steven Luatua is combined with the well-recognised talent of youngsters Akira Ioane and Blake Gibson. Add World Cup standout Jack Ram and two ITM Cup top performers in Kara Pryor and Joe Edwards and the Blues loose forward stocks provide an almost unrivalled depth.

We talk to Coach Tana Umaga to see what each player will bring to the loosies in 2016.

Jerome Kaino
Our captain is returning from a second successful All Blacks campaign at the Rugby World Cup, a campaign that saw Jerome cross the line five times and equal Alan Whetton’s record for most tries scored by a forward at the RWC.

ìI think his strength at the moment is consistency and his ability to rise for the big games,î said Coach Tana Umaga. ìHe’s developed his leadership while being in a very good All Black side and has respect from our players because of his achievements on the field.î
Achievements that include 106 Super Rugby caps with the Blues, even with a two-year reprieve from New Zealand Rugby in Japan with Toyota Verblitz.
Jerome is returning to lead the Blues for a second year and will be a strong mentor for the young 2016 Blues squad.

Blake Gibson
Blake Gibson is one of the most talked about ìup-and-comersî in New Zealand’s loose forward ranks, with a driving work ethic to keep pace with the public’s expectations. He’s one of the team’s more serious players, humble but extremely focused on the task at hand and hard working.

Blake was already signed with the Blues when Tana came on board, yet has already made an impression on our new coach.
ìI think it’s Blake’s attitude and work ethic that stands out from other players,î said Tana. ìHe pushes himself hard and he’s always looking to better himself.î
The flanker/number 8 made a real impression in his debut super rugby season and went on to earn three players’ player of the match awards at the recent Under 20 World Rugby Champs in Italy

Kara Pryor
Kara Pryor entered the 2015 ITM Cup season with a left ankle injury, but trained through to play each of the 10 games for Northland. He finished with an impressive 114 tackles, an 88.4% success rate, and 10th across the competition.

Known more for his flair and pace in recent seasons, Tana called Kara one of the most resilient players coming through the ITM Cup, noting his commitment during a tough season with Northland in 2015.
ìHe never gave up and showed a lot of heart and mental fortitude to return from injury early to be a standout performer for Northland,î said Tana.
Kara provided injury cover for the Blues during the 2015 season and caught the attention of Blues selectors.

Jack Ram
The diverse loose forward ñ he can play both flankers and number 8 ñ earned the respect of Blues senior players and coaching staff during his brief time with the squad in 2015. He played his first cap with the Blues against the Highlanders during the final round of the season.

Jack also represented his home-nation Tonga in this year’s Rugby World Cup, scoring two tries in his side’s 35-21 win over Namibia in the round robin stages. Tana called Jack a ìstandoutî during his ITM Cup team Northland’s 2014 season. Jack recently represented Tonga on the Oceania Olympic Sevens Qualifying tournament in Auckland.

Steven Luatua
A dislocated shoulder during the 2015 season might have put Steven Luatua’s hopes of leading the Blues on hold, but it seems to have galvanised the flanker who’s gone through surgery and rehab to ready himself for the 2016 season.
His standing on the Blues squad was recognised by the 2015 coaching staff, giving Steven the captaincy after Jerome was ruled out from injury in round 12.

Tana has called Steven one of the side’s deepest thinkers and a strong contributor both on and off the field.
ìSteven has strong leadership qualities and thinks deeply about the game,î said Tana. ìAnd he’s got a huge passion for the region and the club. Plus he’s been an All Black before and wants to be back in that environment.î
The 14 cap All Blacks has been working to re-enter the All Blacks side, competing for one of the hard-fought loose forward positions and looks to be in good shape entering 2016.

Akira Ioane
Another of the Blues’ rising talents, Akira Ioane shone for Auckland Rugby during the 2015 season ranking 1st in defenders beaten (71) and clean breaks (167) as well as 3rd in metres (762). He also excelled out at the Under-20 World Championship in June and made his Super Rugby debut with the Blues in 2015.
Blues coaching staff and management have recognised Akira’s talent, while also carefully planning his development.

ìWe need to support Akira and assist him to realise his potential,î said Tana. ìHe has a big year with the Olympics next season, but we can see him playing a big role for the Blues in years to come.î

Tanerau Latimer
One of the most influential signings for the 2016 season, former Chiefs stalwart Tanerau Latimer will bring mana and universal respect to the Blues side.
Tanerau helped the Chiefs win back-to-back Super Rugby titles. His signing provides depth for the Blues side in 2016, providing additional options when for Akira Ioane is away for Sevens duties.

The Super Rugby centurion and Maori All Black planned to return from leading Japanese side Toshiba to play Super Rugby and contacted the Blues ahead of the 2016 season. Tanerau is known for his strong influence and leadership and is looking to work closely with Tana in mentoring some of the younger players.

ìWe needed someone with experience to help develop the younger guys as well as assist with our leadership,î said Tana. ìHe’ll bring experience and knows what it takes to win a Super Rugby competition.î

Joseph Edwards
The number 6 has been flagged by New Zealand selectors from an early age, recognised for his driving play and skill with the ball. He made the Auckland side in his first year out of Saint Kentigern College and earned 35 caps for the side, even through injury. Joseph was selected for age grade national teams and made the Blues Wider Training Group in 2013.

Joseph enjoyed his debut in 2015 after a tough run with injuries since his initial selection, and he’s been recognised as resilient and diligent in his approach to rehabilitation and training by the Blues coaching group.
ìJoe has had an outstanding ITM Cup season for Auckland and has shown us that he still has the drive and ability to play at this level,î said Tana. ìHe’s been held back by injuries in previous seasons but we’re hoping that’s behind us moving forward.î