Blues: Leon MacDonald expects a challenge in managing his All Blacks stars’ workload

Dylan Coetzee
Blues boss Leon MacDonald looks on

Blues head coach Leon MacDonald admits it is going to be a challenge to manage the workload of his All Blacks contingent in this year’s Super Rugby Pacific.

A whopping 13 players in MacDonald’s squad donned the famous All Blacks jersey in 2022, and the onus is on the coach to manage these stars during a World Cup year.

No more than five consecutive games

MacDonald confirmed star flank Dalton Papali’i would retain the captaincy for 2023 as the coach looks to manage his stars and ensure they do not play five consecutive games during the season, including knockout games – an even more difficult task than last season.

“Even more so this year, it’s going to be more stringent, making sure players aren’t playing more than five games (in a row),” MacDonald told Stuff. “We’ve got a reasonably good chunk of All Blacks here now, so there’s no game where you really want to rest any of them. Trusting the squad is going to be really important, and making sure the whole squad is ready to go. We did it well last year, and we have to do it again this year.”

Of the All Blacks contingent, only Caleb Clarke was not training this week due to an illness. MacDonald confirmed none of the internationals will be available for their pre-season clash with Hurricanes on February 11.

The former Crusader star knows his players will have to find form in Super Rugby Pacific if they are to book their spot in the All Blacks World Cup squad later this year.

“A lot of our guys will feel like they have to go and prove themselves again,” said MacDonald. “They’ve got to have a good season to get on that plane, so it will bring a positive edge.”

The Blues put a brilliant season together in 2022 but fell short of silverware, losing to the Crusaders in the final. The goal is to make that last step this season.

“We were pleased with last year, but to win the title is the ultimate goal,” he said. “The message today is we start again. Last year was nice … but we have to go and earn it from scratch again. There’s no magic bullet to this stuff. Over the years we’ve got better and better, and we have to keep striving to do so. At some point if you keep asking the right questions, you will get the result you want.”

Innovate and improve

MacDonald wants to keep his squad growing and innovating to find a way to sit on top of the Super Rugby hierarchy.

“That’s important,” he said. “If we keep doing what we did last year we’ll probably get the same result, which isn’t champion. We want to keep finding ways to be better and different, and with the All Blacks a little bit late on this journey, it’s just getting them to understand why they’re doing it and what we’re trying to achieve.”

Wing Mark Telea burst onto the scene in 2022 and earned himself some All Blacks experience. MacDonald is impressed with how much the speedster has grown in the national set-up.

“Just his confidence. He’s come back and been quite demanding already. We had some good reports from the All Blacks around the leadership he showed there. Even today he’s straight away expecting high standards from those around him. He always delivers that himself first.

“He’s a good story of a guy who’s got where he’s got through hard work. Twelve months ago he couldn’t kick the ball – now he can kick with both feet.”

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