Faiane steps up to lead Blues

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Faiane, who led Auckland to their Mitre 10 Cup success in 2018, has been part of the Blues leadership group since. He had to play a little in the shadow of Sonny Bill Williams through stages of the last two seasons but the captaincy was another step in his progression, assistant coach Tana Umaga said.


The important thing was he had the respect of the players and everyone was supporting him.


Umaga said players being rested this week had looked at the coaches a little stunned when told but it was just part of the rest requirements. When plans had been outlined earlier in the year, the Lions week was the one agreed.


"We're on a bit of a roll and it's not ideal, but it hasn't been ideal for every club. It's just something we have to get used to and it gives opportunities for other guys," he said.


Gerard Cowley-Tuioti would replace Tuipulotu and he had played well in the 40 minutes he got last week in Wellington, he said.


Umaga said the unusual travel demand of having two games in Africa and then playing away for their next game had shown the resilience in the side by being able to cope.

"Now we're back home and we realise we can't rest on our laurels either," he said.


While they had been getting a lot of pats on the back for their four wins in their last five games, they remained aware of what the Lions would bring to Eden Park and they would want to go home on a good note.


"We're pretty nervous about this game so I think there is a bit of an edge to us which is good," he said.


Umaga said the composure the Blues had shown in Wellington as the Hurricanes' discipline disintegrated had been the result of what the side had talked about in the pre-season yet to see that executed and put into action in those circumstances had been pleasing for the coaches because that was what they were always looking for.


Hoskins Sotutu would start again at No 8 after Akira Ioane had been given the start last weekend.


Umaga said it had been part of the plan to get Ioane back to his best and he had done a lot of work while the team was in Africa to improve his form.


"It was to his credit that he came and performed for 80 minutes and I don't think a lot of people thought he would and he's possibly going to get back to his best but Hoskins has been outstanding for us in the first part of the season and he deserved a bit of a rest. He had a few niggles as you would because he's a young guy and all of a sudden he's playing back-to-back games for 80 minutes.


"It does wear on you and he's had good rest but now he knows there's a bit of competition and he can't rest on his laurels," he said.

But with Ioane coming off the bench there was firepower throughout the game available.


Umaga backed the view of head coach Leon MacDonald that the differences emerging in the Blues game, especially their increased success was down to players maturing.


"And they are getting some amazing coaching with the likes of Tom Coventry and Leon MacDonald and what they are bringing," he said.


Their strength and conditioning people were working around what was required at Super Rugby level, especially when coming off schools or Mitre 10 Cup programmes and understanding the gaps was all contributing.


"For me, they're just growing up and they've got some good educators here to do that," he said.


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