Augustine Pulu is exactly what the Blues need right now
Augustine Pulu’s return to Super Rugby could not come at a better time.
It can’t be stressed enough how much the Blues – desperate for inspiration – need this man back in their side.
He was instrumental in his last appearance and really showed his worth in a near-perfect performance against the Chiefs.
He was dangerous from the base of the ruck as a constant running threat and accurate as a passer and signal caller, giving the Blues a dimension to their attack that they simply haven’t had since he’s been out. Also stellar on defence, Pulu converted on all five of his tackle attempts and finishing the game tied for the most tackles made by a Blues back despite limping off after 65 minutes.
Not only did Pulu make his tackles, he absolutely punished the Chiefs. Listed at 6’2”, Pulu is a big, strong halfback and he used his physicality to outmuscle his opposite and fellow All Blacks contender Brad Weber on several occasions. He also hammered Damian McKenzie in cover twice to force an error or stop a line break dead. And he was in no way picking on the smaller guys, he made a heroic goal-line tackle on Chiefs No. 8 Taleni Seu, who has about 20 kilos on him.
The Blues need his leadership and hard-nosed effort on defence if they are going to stop their bleeding and start trending upwards. They have surrendered 268 points this season, the fifth worst in the competition, despite having played one less game than three of the bottom five teams. Pulu’s effort and brave tackling should aid in that department.
It’s no secret that Pulu offers so much more than any other halfback on the Blues roster. In the 65 minutes he played against the Chiefs in his last appearance, Pulu arguably outperformed both Jonathan Ruru and Sam Nock’s combined body of work over the entire season so far.
In 65 minutes Pulu ran for 24 metres with ball in hand, scored a try in an unbelievable show of strength, set another try up and made two line breaks.
Over the course of the season Ruru and Nock have played in seven and six games respectively. Between them the pair have one line break, one try assist and seven tackle busts, three more than Pulu had against the Chiefs and one more than he has had in his two appearances this season.
How Pulu impacts the game upon his return could be the catalyst that starts pushing the Blues in the right direction, and a return to top form could see an All Black recall in the near future as he tries to steady Tana Umaga’s metaphorical ship that has come extremely close to sinking in his absence.
The Blues – who have just two wins to their name this season – will play at home three times over the next four weeks, presenting the 28-year-old with a fantastic opportunity to step up as the leader of a struggling franchise in desperate need of his help.
The two-test All Black will come off the bench against the Jaguares on Saturday night, where he will hopefully provide a much-needed boost against an in-form side travelling to New Zealand for the first time since 2016. Next week the Blues travel to Sydney to take on the Australian Conference-leading Waratahs – who will be fresh from a bye and have only lost once this season – before hosting incredibly tough back-to-back derbies against the Hurricanes and Crusaders.
With Pulu in the side the Blues have looked considerably more competitive, pushing the Highlanders in week two and nearly stealing victory against the Chiefs in week three. If Pulu can outplay his Kiwi compatriots over the next four weeks and – combined with the potential return of Sonny Bill Williams in the near future – lead the Blues to at least three wins from their next four games by knocking off the Jaguares, Rebels and one of the New Zealand teams, he may just trigger an end-of-season turnaround and will be tough for selectors to ignore heading into his side’s final bye week.
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