Cape Town - Blues coach Pat Lam agrees with the view that New Zealand rugby could be headed for trouble because of the player drain to the northern hemisphere – and he reckons it was a big factor in his team’s defeat to the Vodacom Bulls at Loftus last weekend.
Lam, who took over as coach of the Blues from David Nucifora at the start of the season, said that while New Zealand rugby had no problem with the amount of talent coming through from the schools and youth structures, experience is impossible to replace.
“The player exodus is a problem in that we are losing experience,” said Lam on Tuesday.
“There is plenty of talent in New Zealand, there is a wealth of young players coming through, but they need the experienced hands to guide them and help them settle. That is not happening, and it is creating a problem for our depth.”
Lam, who is in Cape Town with his team for Saturday’s Vodacom Super 14 match against the Vodacom Stormers, said that his team had been caught out by the altitude in Pretoria, something that would not have happened had his players been more experienced.
“The altitude was a big factor at Loftus, it really got to us, and it wouldn’t have had we had the services of a lot of players who had been there before, who had experience of playing in those conditions.
“What you really need if you are going to be successful in the Super 14 or any other big competition is a core of guys who have been playing for you for a while and who have come on this trip over and over again to the point where they know exactly what to expect.
“We have a lot of very talented and promising young players, and in a few years they will be at the top of their game, but the way it is going at the moment, we may lose them to the northern hemisphere just when they are in their prime. And then we are going to find ourselves having to start the rebuilding process all over again.”
Lam’s view was backed up by his captain, All Black hooker Keven Mealamu, who is one of few remaining Blues players who has been part of the set-up at Auckland for several seasons.
“The Bulls had a great start at Loftus, they put 26 points on us in the first 20 minutes, and with the inexperienced team we had it was difficult to come back from that,” said Mealamu.
“We had a lot of players in our side who had never played at altitude before, and they just weren’t prepared for what hit them. It was gutting to concede 59 points, but altitude, and our lack of preparedness for it, was a big factor. It is quite something to have your lungs burning when you not used to it. If we come this way again (for a play-off game) later in the year we will approach it very differently.”
The loss of players to overseas from the New Zealand teams has become more acutely felt in the early stages of the competition because of the number of All Blacks and other top players sidelined by injury. The Blues welcome back three top players from paternity leave for the Stormers game, but they are still being hurt by the injury enforced absence of All Black lock Ali Williams, who is back on their books after a year in Christchurch.