Was Marshall given a fair chance?

Date published: April 24 2014

Should Blues boss Sir John Kirwan bear the brunt of the responsibility for Benji Marshall's failure to succeed in Rugby Union?

Blues boss Sir John Kirwan must bear the brunt of the responsibility for Benji Marshall's failure to succeed in Rugby Union.

While Marshall's critics will point out that the player himself admitted that he is was just an “average rugby player” it must be asked if he really was given a fair shot at making it in the 15-man code?

Kirwan went out of his way – with plenty of hype and fanfare – to bring the former New Zealand Rugby League captain over from the NRL and even said he believed Marshall and Sonny Bill Williams would play together for the All Blacks at the 2015 Rugby World Cup and represent New Zealand at Sevens at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

As soon Marshall made the switch, it was decided that he would not be playing in the ITM Cup as he needed to rest after finishing off an arduous NRL season.

Marshall has said although his switch to Union didn't work out, as planned, he has no regrets about the move. But not playing in last year's ITM Cup is a decision which, in hindsight, he would surely have made differently and is something which Kirwan should have insisted upon, especially as Marshall was thrown to the wolves early on in 2014.

Marshall started at fly-half for the Blues in all three the Blues' pre-season matches against the Hurricanes, Waratahs and Chiefs earlier this year.

Kirwan was confident his star recruit would make it at fly-half and before their opening warm-up match against the Hurricanes said: “There were a lot of unknowns when Benji hit town and when I looked at him as a League player I thought he'd be a 10 or 15.

“He's really stepped into that 10 role. He has the personality of a 10 so he takes control, likes to run the game plan and so we've really concentrated on putting him there. He hasn't trained 15 at all so we're going to put him at 10 at this stage.”

Well, after losing all three those friendlies, the Blues kicked off their campaign with Marshall on the bench against the Highlanders, in Dunedin, and although he impressed in a 20 minute cameo towards the end of that game, at full-back, the impression was given that the experiment with him at fly-half was well and truly over.

Chris Noakes wore the number 10 jersey in that game against the Highlanders and Simon Hickey was in that position against the Crusaders, Bulls, Lions, Cheetahs, the return match against the Highlanders in Auckland and against the Brumbies before Noakes was back in the saddle for last weekend's match with the Hurricanes.

In the meantime, Marshall was coming off the bench to fill in at full-back and actually played well, and scored a try, when he started in the number 15 jersey in the 39-36 defeat to the Lions in Johannesburg.

Judging from that performance he was enjoying himself at full-back but Marshall was then back on bench duty against the Cheetahs, Brumbies and Hurricanes.

Noakes got injured and came off early in last weekend's match and Marshall was then asked to steer the Blues' ship, from the pivot position, again after last playing there more than two months ago.

Little wonder, he delivered a below par performance and a frustrated Kirwan admitted that the team lost direction in the second half which was the root cause of their defeat.

Marshall admitted on Wednesday that the lack of time in the XV-man game has meant that he has continued to revert to what he learnt in League when under pressure.

“I acted instinctively which was playing Rugby League,” he said.

“At the weekend it made a big difference, I felt I was playing a different game to everyone else. That made me realise I hadn't picked up the technicalities of the game quick enough and I think it is going to take me a lot longer to understand that side of the game,” he said.

Kirwan clearly ran out of patience and, at a meeting between player and coach, suggested to Marshall he either play the rest of the season in the lower tiers to help prepare him for the 2015 Super Rugby tournament or return to Rugby League.

Marshall opted for the latter but one can't help but wonder why Kirwan didn't insist on him playing in the ITM Cup when he signed Marshall for the Blues last year.

By David Skippers