Williams-Ioane pairing adds spark to Blues

Apr 13, 2017 - 8:16 PM Coach Tana Umaga is hoping the return of midfield maestro Sonny Bill Williams will galvanise the Blues in their Super Rugby clash against the Hurricanes in Auckland on Saturday.

Returning from an eight-month injury-enforced absence, Williams stretched his legs for the final 25 minutes of the Blues' 26-20 loss to the Highlanders last weekend.

Umaga saw enough to name Williams in his starting line-up for Saturday, with 20-year-old All Black Rieko Ioane lining up outside Williams at centre.

The exciting duo are still something of an unknown combination, Umaga admits.

"It's the first time they'll play together - training's all good, but under pressure we'll see how that goes," he said.

"It's got its possibilities and it's exciting, so we'll have to see how that pans out."

It seems unlikely Williams will last the full 80 minutes, but Umaga has the luxury of yet another All Blacks midfielder in George Moala on his bench.

Moala has shouldered a heavy workload for the Blues so far this season, but wasn't at his best against the Highlanders, Umaga says.

"Performance is what we judge on, and if you're not performing, then we've got someone that can step in and is willing to take his chance."

After seven games, the Blues currently sit bottom of the New Zealand Super Rugby conference, their only wins coming over the Rebels, Bulls and Force.

Umaga acknowledges the pressure is on, but says his team will be focused on their own game rather that that of the in-form Hurricanes, whose only loss in six games has been to the Chiefs.

"We've got to look after our own game first and foremost," he said.

"We know they're going to bring a lot of energy - they're playing with unreal confidence at the moment, and we've got to try and combat that.

"We've shown we can compete with every team for a certain amount of time, and the game we've got works when we stick to it for 80 minutes."

The Blues have yet to manage that against a New Zealand team, having racked up losses against the Chiefs, the Highlanders (twice) and the Crusaders.

Umaga says it's not a lack of effort which is behind the defeats, rather an inability to keep cool under pressure.

"It's making sure we stay disciplined and play our game, not try t do everything.

"Everyone wants it that bad, they're jumping over each other to try and do things, create things, rather than just having that discipline to stay within our structures."

Source: AAP

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