Aussies have Lions to thank for form
Blues coach John Kirwan believes the impressive form the Australian Super Rugby teams are showing could be attributed to the looming B&I Lions tour.
Blues coach John Kirwan believes the impressive form the Australian Super Rugby teams are showing could be attributed to the looming British and Irish Lions tour.
Kirwan’s third-placed Blues face the second-placed Reds at Suncorp Stadium on Friday, with this year’s results suggesting a win for the Brisbane side.
The Australians have scored seven victories over New Zealand teams this season, with the Hurricanes the only team to manage a win against them.
Kirwan feels the race for places in the Wallaby team for the three-Test series against the Lions in June has brought the best out of Australian players this season.
He referenced the return to form of Reds playmaker Quade Cooper after being omitted from Robbie Deans’s first planning squad earlier this month as a case in point.
“It’s a bit like the World Cup isn’t it? Everyone has a bit of an edge and wants to be selected. I know when I was playing, to play the Lions was a highlight,” Kirwan said.
“I just wish [Wallaby coach] Robbie Deans hadn’t left Quade out of that squad, since then he’s been playing the house down.”
Ten rounds into the competition the exuberant Blues find themselves topping the New Zealand Conference, however, Kirwan is not getting carried away. Instead, he stressed the importance to stay focussed and keep working hard.
“I’m really happy with where we are but we’re just half-way through and we need to make sure that we keep working hard,” he said.
“The next six weeks is defining for everyone. The bottom team can get to the top and the top team can go to the bottom so we’re not getting carried away, we’ve got to keep working hard and we’ve got a huge test on Friday.”
Indeed, Friday’s fixture in Brisbane will be the biggest challenge the Blues have faced this season.
The 2011 champions are in fine form, toppling last year’s champions the Chiefs a fortnight ago before grinding out a 19-all draw with the table-topping Brumbies last week.
“They’re the best side in the competition,” Kirwan said.
“I thought it was a really tense, physical battle the other night against the Brumbies so we need to be ready for that.
“It’s going to be a battle up front firstly because they’re really aggressive at the ruck and then we need to try and contain two world-class backline players in Will Genia and Quade Cooper.”
Captain Ali Williams missed training on Monday with an ongoing knee issue but will be fine to take on the Reds, while Kirwan intimated that All Black veteran Keven Mealamu would continue to make his impact felt off the bench on Friday.
“Keven will probably play off the bench. Kevvie’s going well and so is JP [James Parsons] so we’ve got a really nice bit of competition there.
“We know what Kevvie can bring us but JP has also been playing the house down so off the bench for Kevvie and see what happens.”