The Blues will be counting down the days, and probably the minutes, until the coming of Beauden Barrett.
Despite some media claiming the ‘experiment’ of fielding three playmakers against the Bulls in Pretoria was a success, a close review of the tape showed that not to be the case.
Individually, Stephen Perofeta at fullback and Otere Black played well, the latter slotting the late winning goal. But Harry Plummer’s impact at second five was negligible. Not that he played poorly, but he is just not suited to the No 12 jersey, even if he can tackle well enough and pass well.
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Black was unavailable due to injury for the Blues’ opening three games. His forte is his goalkicking, and he came up trumps in the clutch at Loftus on a return of three from five off the tee. However, his kicking for touch, like Plummer’s, is iffy. That was the case at Loftus, but why this should be so is as mysterious as why the Blues have made the playoffs just twice in the last 16 seasons.
That said, Black did several good things against the Bulls. His crosskick for Matt Duffie, superbly taken by the wing, led to Stephen Perofeta’s try, and his thrust and pass ignited the Blues on their final play before he stepped up and silenced the Loftus faithful.
But let’s be clear: Otere Black is not going to fire this Blues backline, which has speed merchants such as Joe Marchant and Mark Telea champing at the bit for space. Black has never passed fluently, but his kicking off the tee means he will have to wear the No 10 jersey until Barrett’s return in around six weeks.
Plummer was used as a sub in the first three games before slotting into the No 12 jersey. In theory, the move made sense as the rain fell in Pretoria, but we saw no wipers kicking from Plummer and just the one high ball/bomb. He did, however, save a try with his commitment on the tackle.
His all-round play has not kicked on since he played a mature role in Auckland’s 2018 Mitre 10 Cup triumph. His goalkicking, once such a strength of his game, tailed away in 2019, and he has three from five in 2020, as first Perofeta, and now Black, have been given the primary responsibility ahead of him.
Perofeta was this scribe’s pick as the man at No 10 to see the Blues through until the advent of Barrett, but there were always question marks around his game management and tactical and goal kicking. Despite some nice patches in most outings – his first three were at first five – Perofeta’s kicking and generalship is again under the blowtorch. He did well, though, at fullback against the Bulls, away from the burden of too much decision-making, and this is where he must continue.
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) February 24, 2020
The two (or even three) playmaker option seems to be in vogue. The Highlanders have used it with Mitch Hunt and Josh Ioane, but it is doing Ioane’s game no good, even though, again, the idea seems sound in theory.
It works better for England with George Ford and Owen Farrell because the latter is a robust defender, when he is tackling legally, kicks accurately out of hand and off the tee.
It worked well for Auckland and the All Blacks in 1993 with Grant Fox and Lee Stensness, because the latter had an effective short kicking game and could step off either foot and break the line.
The 2020 Blues would be better off reinstating the rugged TJ Faiane, who is strong over the ball and direct in his lines, at second five, rather than persevering with the so-called two playmakers.
Even with Perofeta at fullback, it is a stretch to call him a playmaker just because he can slot in at first five. Stick with Black, let him kick the goals, and get the team to work the blind and attack from the set-piece, if stable.
The Blues must just suck it up until Barrett suits up. But Loftus was a mirage if they think they have unlocked the key to their backline fluency.
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