The Blues are just one week into training in 2014 but Sir Graham Henry is already impressed with what he’s seen from a number of new faces to the team.
The squad, minus their All Blacks, kicked back into training last week as they began transitioning from purely strength and conditioning to more skill-based work ahead of their first pre-season match on February 1.
Henry said he was pleased with the start the team had made to the year.
“It’s been a really positive week, there’s been a lot of hard work done,” Henry said. “There’s some clarity on roles and a lot of work done on skill development and working on guys’ skill level which is going to be key during the year.”
Star recruit Benji Marshall has been a hot topic since arriving in Auckland to join the Blues, and Henry said he was encouraged by what he saw from the playmaker in his first week with the ball.
“He’s starting to feel comfortable in the group which is good. It’s the first time he’s used the ball in rugby since he was a kid so it’s going to take him a while to get into the rugby mentality rather than the rugby league mentality.
“He’s a mature guy, he’s professional, he’s played a lot of football and he’s pretty fit. He’s starting to get a feel for the game.
“That’s going to take a while and he needs to play some rugby for that to happen but that will happen and I’m encouraged by what I see.”
However Marshall is just one of a number of new faces impressing Henry, with a host of rookies and Wider Training Group players stepping up.
“Guys like Tevita Li, Jordan Manihera, Sam Prattley, Patrick Tuipulotu, Tom Murday, Simon Hickey and William Lloyd who are new to the group are starting to get into the team and understand what this level of rugby is about.
“Obviously that won’t happen until they start playing but they’re starting to integrate well into the team.”
The Blues made significant strides last year as a number of exciting young players burst onto the scene and were elevated to the All Blacks (Frank Halai, Charles Piutau, Francis Saili and Steven Luatua).
However after a thrilling start to the season, the Blues slumped to six straight losses to finish the season in 10th place, and Henry said the team needed to press the reset button rather than trying building on last year.
“The game is always evolving, what happened last year was OK but we’re always trying to get better – better never stops so I think you’ve got to start from scratch every year, you can’t build on what happened the year before.
“I think if you try and do that you’ll fall over and have to go back again, just from my limited experience of 40 years I think that’s what you’ve got to do and so they’ve started at rock bottom and they’re building a rugby for 2014.”
Henry’s role with the Blues has changed slightly this season in that he is also helping to drive the leadership of the team, something he is thoroughly enjoying.
“I’m still doing the defence with Grant Doorey – but I’m also doing the leadership this year which I’ve never done before so that’s stimulating. I’m trying to help them develop as good leaders and help with the individual development of people.”
The Blues play their first pre-season match against the Hurricanes in Masterton on February 1, with their first game of the season against the Highlanders on February 22.