Managing micro moments key for Blues

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Wednesday, February 21, 2018    Lynn McConnell    Getty Images

Recognition of what those chances were, analysis and understanding of what should have been done, were part of the Blues review process and had been part of the pre-season planning.

Coach Tana Umaga said: "We need to make sure we understand those moments when we are in them, how do we react, what's our solution to them and then hopefully the work that we've done in the pre-season and in the build-up to this game sees us make better decisions and come out on the other side of those moments."

Just how much that has trickled down through his squad should be obvious from the outset as injuries have meant the side will be down on experience.

It had been frustrating that the Blues were down on loose forward and first five-eighths options due to injuries but Umaga said that seemed to be where opportunities came the way of players in the squad.

"Glenn [Preston] has done really well for us in terms of his performances in the pre-season, and even he started late carrying a little niggle from Mitre 10 Cup. He's done everything right leading into what is going to be his first appearance at this level.

"He's a workhorse, no doubt about it. He's good at the lineout and he's very skilful at what he does. He's ticked the boxes that we've asked him to," he said.

Preston was an example to other players that if they did what the coaches asked of them they would get opportunities to perform.

It would be beneficial to him having North Harbour loose forward Murphy Taramai alongside him, and other North Harbour players as well.

That was another feature of the Blues side in 2018. It was much more representative of the Auckland, North Harbour and Northland region and Umaga said that had always been a goal to grow the region and it had been commented that there should be no reason to go outside the region due to the playing numbers and the talent and quality of talent in the area.

Umaga said the choice of Michael Collins at fullback ahead of Melani Nanai was based on the needs for the Highlanders game. He was likely to give the Blues something 'a bit extra' at the start but Nanai would come on and provide his own contribution.

Collins offered solidity in the face of what was expected from the Highlanders while his communication ability was a factor in his choice as well.

First five-eighths Bryn Gatland was another who had stepped up when opportunity opened when Stephen Perofeta broke his hand. It wouldn't be his first game for the side and his ability was well known after the control he had shown for North Harbour in Mitre 10 Cup play.

"He's a solid player and knows our game and how to drive a game and that's what we're looking for. He's got a lot of quality players outside him and they'll give him support and make sure they give him an easy ride," he said.

Starting with a local derby would be tough, but the players knew what was coming. They had a taste of it in warm-up games against the Hurricanes and the Chiefs but it would be a step up from the pre-season and would be a physical contest, as it always was.

New Highlanders coach Aaron Mauger, an old All Blacks teammate of Umaga, would have the home team primed. It was his first game in charge and he would be looking to claim a win first-up.