Kirwan: Door always open for Anscombe
Blues coach Sir John Kirwan admits dumping Gareth Anscombe may have been short-sighted and is interested in bringing him back to the franchise.
Chris Noakes and Baden Kerr were signed as replacements, leaving the Auckland playmaker out in the cold after his first Super Rugby tilt, during which he amassed 99 points in 10 games. The Blues finished at the foot of the table in 2012 but Anscombe showed immense potential, most noticeably when he scored all of the Blues' points in their 29-23 win over the Bulls in Pretoria.
Criticised for what are believed to be his defensive frailties, Anscombe has subsequently made positive strides at Waikato Stadium where he is the first choice goal-kicker and helps All Blacks maestro Aaron Cruden launch the Chiefs' two-pronged attack.
Meanwhile, Kirwan is still searching for a long-term option in the Blues No.10 jersey and hopes rugby league recruit Benji Marshall will eventually make the transition.
However, it's hard not to think a solution could have been reached sooner had the plug not been pulled on one of the region's most promising homegrown talents.
"It's been interesting watching Gareth and I'm happy to say that I might have got some things wrong. The door is always open," Kirwan told Sportal.
"He's just re-signed with the Chiefs for one more year so I'm really happy to look at [bringing him back in 2015] for sure."
Kirwan said he planned to re-assess Anscombe's abilities while he was playing for Auckland in the ITM Cup. However, offseason surgery on both his shoulders meant he did not feature once for Wayne
While thriving under the culture created by coach Dave Rennie at the Chiefs, a move back to the Blues would provide Anscombe with a chance to play in his preferred position on a permanent basis.
Sportal understands, however, that the chances he will play under Kirwan are slim.
A source close to the Auckland-born Anscombe has revealed details of a discussion between the pair that has supposedly damaged their relationship.
"Wayne Pivac pulled Gareth aside at training and told him he was about to receive some bad news, but I don't think was prepared for the things JK [Kirwan] said to him," said the source, who wished to remain anonymous.
"JK basically said to Gareth 'you lack courage and you've got no clue about how to run a football team'. He even told Gareth to go and have a look at Chris Noakes' defensive statistics to justify why he had been dropped.
"Gareth came out of that meeting extremely upset and hurt by the things that were said to him. He didn't deserve that."
When contacted by Sportal, Anscombe was uncomfortable speaking about the matter, but said: "They wouldn't deal with a player like that here [at the Chiefs]. That's for sure."
Kirwan dismissed claims of a personal fallout, insisting Anscombe's lack of experience forced him to look elsewhere for a 'mature' alternative.
"I never actually compared him to anyone else," Kirwan said. "What I did say to him in that meeting was that he needs to fix up his game defensively and that's probably the biggest part of his game that he needs to improve.
"I didn't question his courage. I said to him 'why aren't you doing those things technically?'. But those meetings are private between the player and I, and I say a lot of things to those guys.
Sometimes the things that I say are things that people don't want to hear and sometimes they are.
"I've got no issues with Gareth but I can only do one thing - tell people the truth the way I see it.
"Did I make a mistake axing Gareth? Possibly. He had a good season at fullback and I'm really looking forward to seeing him playing 10 for the Chiefs."
Kirwan also poured water on rumours that Ma'a Nonu had influenced Anscombe's axing before he reneged on a handshake agreement to sign for the Highlanders instead.
The 87-Test veteran, who was granted permission by the NZRU to find a temporary home overseas, has since recommitted to the Blues but is no longer in a position to make such demands.
"I take advice from a lot of people but then it's my decision in the end. I was pretty clear," Kirwan said.
Kirwan first met Anscombe in 2011 when the latter helped the New Zealand Under 20 side win its fourth consecutive world championship in Italy. Back then he was full of praise for the North Harbour, Blues and New Zealand schools representative but believed stronger leadership qualities were needed to make the step up to Super Rugby.
Kirwan said the idea behind dropping Anscombe was 'to see how he would respond to pressure' and hoped he would remain in the side's wider training group. His methods were lost on Anscombe, who instead felt unfairly treated and went about proving his worth in a rival team.
"Sometimes the truth hurts and you can't package it. So I understand he's a young man and that would hurt. And I did it to other people as well, and it's a tough part of our job," Kirwan added.
"I was pretty tough on him but this is a tough industry.
"He had been signed to us on a deal that was a mature deal. So it was about saying to him 'I need you to improve here, I want you to stay a part of the wider training group but if you want to go I understand'.
"If the player hasn't received the message that I intended him to get, like if he's really upset and offended by it, then he didn't hear the messages that I wanted to give him.
"It's not personal. I'm really happy that Gareth has been successful and if he wants to come back I'm happy to have him.
"But none of his people have spoken to me."
While Anscombe's return would seem like the logical option for both parties, a significant amount of water needs to go under the bridge before that happens.