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.
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.
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 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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.