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Blues need to take another step up

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Wednesday, February 28, 2018    Lynn McConnell    Getty Images

That was the challenge for all members of the side when hosting neighbours the Chiefs at Eden Park on Friday.

Umaga said the Chiefs, in spite of the injuries their squad had suffered, had still managed to play with aggression and vigour against the Crusaders.

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"They've got some X factor around that 9-10 [Brad Weber-Damian McKenzie] area, so you've got to be wary of that," he said.

"With guys like Liam Messam and Sam Cane in that forward pack I don't think they'll die wondering about what they want to do," he said.

Umaga said he was confident Sonny Bill Williams would be fit to travel with the side to South Africa after Friday's game. He had taken a blow to his head as well as to his knee and they didn't want to risk bringing him back too early.

He felt TJ Faiane was well set to cover for Williams. He had been there before and played a lot of games for the Blues last year and having played in all the pre-season games it wouldn't be a problem for him to step at all.

"We've got a lot of belief in TJ. Obviously he's got a different skill set to Sonny and he doesn't have 20kg that Sonny does yet he makes up for that in his other attributes. We'll look forward to seeing those," he said.

News that flanker Jerome Kaino would be heading offshore at the end of the campaign would severe a legacy connection in the side. Umaga said Kaino had been the connection to the past and the Blues teams that had done well.
Umaga said Kaino had been a key player in the two successful World Cup campaigns he had been involved in and he was a player who stepped up in big games.

He had been a blindside flanker who had continued the aggressive, no-nonsense style with physicality that had been set by players before him like Jerry Collins.

Hooker James Parsons said Kaino had a big influence around the team with his mindset and his ability to lead by example through his actions.

"He doesn't say a hell of a lot but as you've seen over the years he just puts it out there on the field and he puts it into us at training. He'll leave a big hole no doubt but in New Zealand rugby someone leaves and another one pops up and there are a few young guys around here putting their hand up," he said.

Parsons said there had been patches of their game against the Highlanders they were happy with but they needed to be more disciplined, especially after conceding two tries while under a yellow card.

But there had been a progression recognition of important moments in the game, and while they hadn't all fallen their way it was better than it had been.