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Opinion: Otere Black - the final piece of the Blues' jigsaw

Come the start of Super Rugby 2018, the Blues' backline will finally have the one thing that it's been truly missing for what feels like forever - a genuinely world class talent at first-five.

With Otere Black moving north from the Hurricanes (and Ihaia West heading the other way in return), Tana Umaga's men will begin to resemble an outfit capable of competing with the other four New Zealand Super Rugby franchises.

Having spent the better part of the last two seasons on the bench deputising for Beauden Barrett at the Hurricanes, Manawatu's Black gives the Blues a first-five with a game that they've been missing out since Carlos Spencer's glory days.

The Hurricanes have Barrett, the Highlanders have Lima Sopoaga. The Chiefs will most likely shift Damian McKenzie from fullback into the number 10 role, while the champion Crusaders have their own wonderkid in Richie Mo'unga, leaving only the Blues without what could be considered a top level option to lead the backline. 

Enter Otere Black.

With all due respect to the likes of Ihaia West and Piers Francis, neither have the class, or all round game of Black, with the Blues' recent results telling the tale of a side missing a genuine leader at number 10.

Over the past few seasons, the Blues plans have been all too clear under both Sir John Kirwan and now Tana Umaga.

If Ihaia West is at first-five, they're going to try and run at you, using their star backline to cut your team to pieces. Meanwhile, if Piers Francis plays then they're going to try and beat you up front with their forwards, using the Englishman's kicking game to try and gain advatage through territory, kicking penalties to capitalise on opposition mistakes.

While both plans may work against Australian, South African, Japanese and Argentinian sides, it's against their fellow conference members that the Blues' plans have come unstuck.

Put simply, West lacks the kicking game while Francis lacked the ability to run - Otere Black can do both, allowing the Blues to change gameplan mid match in the way the four other New Zealand sides do.

While he may be lacking the experience of playing every week at Super Rugby level, Black has one thing on his side that any upcoming first-five dreams of - he's learned from the best.

Nearly every day for the last two seasons, Otere Black has trained both with and against the best in the world - Beauden Barrett.

So far in this season's Mitre 10 Cup, we've seen Black know when to attack the line with his pace, and when to direct the play with clever kicks in behind, the same way that Barrett's been doing for the last few years.

Playing regularly at the top level will only further Black's development, and when you take into account some of the other star names in the Blues' backline, Otere Black can help his new side off the bottom of New Zealand's Super Rugby conference.

With Augustine Pulu pairing him in the halves, a midfield combination of Sonny Bill Williams and George Moala, not to mention what's sure to be an ever exciting back three of Rieko Ioane, Matt Duffie and Michael Collins, Black will lead what - on paper at least - is the makings of a truly great side.

Make no mistake, this Blues outfit are probably the fifth best club side in the world, the only problem is that the four teams ahead of them just happen to be the Crusaders, Hurricanes, Chiefs and Highlanders.

Don't get me wrong, it'll take more than just one player to turn things around for the underachieving Aucklanders, but with Otere Black the Blues can finally begin to re-establish themselves as one of Super Rugby's big boys.

It'll take time for him to grow into the player that's seen him promise so much for the Hurricanes, Manawatu, Baby Blacks and NZ Maori, but when he does Otere Black will see the Blues back to where they should be in the scheme of Southern Hemisphere rugby.

Otere Black in action against the Cheetahs Source: Photosport


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