Blues

Nucifora exudes confidence

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Blues coach David Nucifora, who will be in charge of the Auckland-based franchise for the third successive season, is oozing confidence ahead of the Super 14.

Following the official team announcement on Wednesday the Australian-born Nucifora said in an interview on the Blues website that he had a competitive squad, despite having lost 11 players that took part in their charge to the 2007 play-offs.

What put the 45-year-old coach’s mind at ease was that the nucleus of his squad consisted of players that were an integral part of Auckland’s successful Air New Zealand (ANZ) Cup campaign.

Nucifora said that his team had a healthy blend of youth, genuine quality and experience, which would hold them in good stead.

“I am particularly happy with the balance of the squad. We are fortunate that it is a 15 forwards-13 backs split, and we have great versatility in our back-line which is a positive,” Nucifora said.

The Blues coach explained that the absence of some of his star All Black campaigners would not impede the team from improving on the 2007 fourth place Super 14 finish.

“We have been able to retain that [versatility], even though we have lost Sam [Tuitupou], Luke [McAlister] and Doug [Howlett].”

The undoubtable strength for the Blues in the Super 14 has always been their forward domination and Nucifora believes that his key forwards will have an important role to play in the 2008 season.

“In the forwards once again we have managed to keep a lot of key players, like Tony Woodcock, Keven Mealamu, John Afoa and Troy Flavell. Plus Daniel Braid is now going into his seventh season of Super rugby and Jerome Kaino has had an outstanding year.

“There is also the opportunity for some younger players to come through. It is always easier for a young player to come through at this level of football, when they are surrounded by experience,” said Nucifora.

While he was excited by the young talent that would feature in the team – the Blues named six players making their Super 14 debut this season – he also felt it was critical that they were guided by some of the senior players in the team.

“There is an ever-widening gap between ANZ Cup and Super 14 so we are fortunate that the boys have played well at ANZ Cup level, but they are all aware there is a big step up to the next level,” added Nucifora.

Indeed there was a preponderance of Auckland players in the announced squad, but Nucifora stressed that players from other feeder teams like Hawke’s Bay and North Harbour were equally as valuable to the team.

“Bryn Evans and Danny Lee were both leading players for Hawke’s Bay in a very successful season,” Nucifora said.

“There are both at opposite ends of the spectrum. Danny is experienced and adds a lot to the group, and I think his playing style will compliment Taniela Moa.

“Bryn is an exciting young player. He is a big fellow [1.96m, 115kg], very athletic, and given the opportunity to play in a very strong forward pack, I think he will develop very quickly.”

In that absence of Joe Schmidt, who is now coaching in France, former Highlanders coach Greg Cooper has taken over as the Blues assistant coach.

“Greg has already done a huge amount of work so far, and he is excited about working with this group of players. We are fortunate to have a guy like him with such experience, and I think the players will really enjoy working with him,” said the enthusiastic Nucifora.

 

365 Digital

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