Donnelly important asset in Blues' locking armoury
New Blues lock Tom Donnelly will be a key asset for the side in the campaign of 2014, in more ways than one.
Locking is a potential Achilles heel for the franchise. Culum Retallick is back to offer some continuity in the role and Liaki Moli is due to go through a sustained period without the injuries that have marred his career to date.
There is no doubt about the undoubted potential of Joe Tuipulotu, but he is going to be exposed to a level of the game he has not been at before.
Both blindside flankers Stephen Luatua and Jerome Kaino could lock at a pinch, but their other assets are likely to be far more vital to the side.
Donnelly shapes as an influential force in the side's development. He has skill in the air for re-starts, especially, and in lineouts but he also has an uncommon nose for the duties in the tight that are an absolute must if the Blues are to secure the quality of ball to set their running skills alight.
"The Blues are a pretty young team. Last season they worked hard on getting qualities back they had lost in previous seasons. There is some real excitement and some of these young and exciting players can transform this franchise in the next few seasons.
"It's exciting to be part of it and I am really looking forward to it," Donnelly said.
Typically for a player exposed to the international environment, Donnelly was big on the value of preparation, especially mental preparation.
"For me preparation is the key to a lot of things. This game is 60-70 percent mental and 30 percent physical.
"These guys have all got another year of experience under their belts from last season. They know what the competition is like, they know how hard it gets in the middle of the season and if they learn the lessons from last year they will be better prepared this year," he said.
With the coaching department headed by Sir John Kirwan and Sir Graham Henry, there was a lot of hard work and putting the effort in at training in order to get the results in performances on the field.
"I think a lot of these guys are under no illusions of what it is going to take to win the championship and with the coaching staff they have here, they will keep them on the level," he said.
"But if you don't unite and play as a team it is very hard to win this competition," he said.
One aspect of the game that Donnelly will be working on is the demands created by the new scrummaging laws. As a lock he is not fully comfortable with the requirements.
"I found the laws quite tough as a lock. When the front rowers come down and do their binds, they move their feet a lot which would either jam us up or extend us, so it's a real fine balancing act and tough for the second row to get their position right so that when their backs engage they are in a really strong pushing position.
"It's a constant work-on and something we are going to have to work really hard on during the season," he said.
Whether the lawmakers had the situation sorted he wasn't sure, but one thing is for certain, the Blues will find it more than useful having such an experienced campaigner contributing to the tight forward debates.