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Kirwan expects Bulls to be toughest test yet
March 6, 2013
The Blues' Frank Halai takes a high ball ahead of the Crusaders' Israel Dagg, Blues v Crusaders, Super Rugby, Eden Park, Auckland, March 1, 2013
Rookie wing Frank Halai has been a revelation for the Blues and coach John Kirwan is backing him. © Getty Images
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Teams: Blues | Bulls | New Zealand

Blues coach Sir John Kirwan thinks Sunday's game with the Bulls will be the most difficult for the side so far in their Super Rugby campaign.

The Bulls had a completely different philosophy to the Blues and they would have studied the Blues play to come up with a counter.

"Morne Steyn (is) one of the best kickers in the game - our back three are going to have to be really alert, so it is just a different approach to the game," Kirwan said.

Of those three the least experienced is wing Frank Halai but Kirwan said he has full confidence in him to handle the burden. He was a late starter in Super Rugby but choices to play Sevens mean some opportunities had passed him by earlier but his maturity and self-confidence had helped.

"I really believe in him, I think he's going to be outstanding. He's an intelligent rugby player so he knows what he needs to do, he's a very quick learner," Kirwan said.

Another player likely to get a starting chance is hooker Quentin MacDonald. Kirwan won't announce the team until Friday but he said it was a big week for the Tasman rake and he needed to have a big one.

The side has been working with the All Blacks' scrum doctor Mike Cron and his timing was designed with the Bulls game in mind, and the scrummaging challenge that would represent.

Kirwan was ready for the different African philosophy the Bulls would bring and the different pressures it creates for the Blues. But with two wins on the board he was aware of a need for grounding among some of the younger players in the side, especially.

"We need to step it up again," Kirwan said. "Any great team will always be humble, will always understand they are not as good as they think they are. If we can keep that work ethic 'better never stops'. Well if better never stops how can we get better from last week."

"There were four or five things we can get better at," Kirwan added. "The biggest challenge for us is that the Bulls are going to bring something completely different. Their philosophy is 'beat you up' at the ruck and tackle. They're going to kick high balls and they're going to be totally into us. So there's going to be more pressure on us this week than we have had."

Kirwan said the benefits of the Crusaders win had been that there were still signs that not everything was right in the game, and there was a chance to keep working on them.

"It was a great test for us and we saw things under pressure that you need to see, and you can only see in a game so that is really important as well," Kirwan said.

The Blues coach continues to be asked about the i-training he has introduced for the side this year. As the players used iPhones and iPads in their normal day living it was only natural to advance that and have a screen filming training so it was possible to 'stop and look' on the big screen. It took time to adapt to that process but he felt the players had coped well.

"I think it is very important to lead people to the answer and once they have got the answer then it is all clear," Kirwan said, adding that it was complementary to an individual skills programme the players had.

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