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Consistent Blackie leads the way

Friday, April 14, 2006    Sportal.co.nz    

The livewire flanker has been one of the most consistent performers for the side, showing all the attributes of a loose forward emerging from the category of promising to a player of great consistency, whose own standards keep getting higher.

Unexpected victories in South Africa, by critics at large both in South Africa and New Zealand, have been matched by season crippling injuries that have accounted for six players in the Highlanders squad.

That is enough to prove debilitating for any side, let alone one representing probably the smallest population base among the New Zealand franchises.

But displaying the optimism that generally reflects the disposition of southerners, Blackie said, "We've still had two wins out of three in the last three weeks.

"Times have been tough but in saying that we've still got wins on the board and we've just got to build on those and stay positive.

"Some years you are going to get away with not many injuries and on other years you are going to be hit quite hard. It is reflective of the group of people involved whether you come through those hard times or not," he said.

There's every chance the Highlanders will emerge from this year's experiences as an even tighter-knit group. Having been through the times when a high number of senior players moved on from the side, and having seen newer players come through, another core is developing.

"Now we've got players who are willing to work hard and work for each other.

"You hope those sorts of philosophies get reflected on the field. We can only keep building. I think the Otago Rugby Union is doing a good job in accommodating us with facilities and personnel, and it is just a case of us getting out there and doing it on the field," he said.

What will make the season different in Blackie's reflection will be his involvement in the successful Commonwealth Games Sevens side.

Going to the Commonwealth Games was not something he ever dreamed of doing as a youth, although his first memory of the Games principle was the 1990 Games in Auckland and the respect he felt for people who won medals there.

"I was never any good in any of the sports so I didn't really aspire to get there. So it was pretty good to be involved with a rugby team that went to the Commonwealth Games," he said.

What the extended Super 14 competition, with an extra team each from South Africa and Australia, has done is heighten the difference in styles between the countries.

"Super 14 is good because you get to play so many teams.

"You play South African teams and it is always highly confrontational, and they are big boys you are playing against whereas you play Australian and New Zealand teams and they are looking to manipulate the defence a lot more.

"It's a good variety and it keeps you on your toes. It's pretty exciting really, going from week to week with different challenges," he said.

And one of those challenges comes this week with the home match against the Hurricanes on Sunday afternoon, a time when Blackie prefers to play, especially when the sun is shining.

For a player who is involved in one of the most controversial positions at the moment, the flanker who has to deal with the breakdown and all its complications, Blackie does not get involved in the controversy surrounding the position and a rival like Richie McCaw.

"As a player, and I think most players are probably the same, it's wise not to listen to what is going on in the background. I haven't been paying much attention to be honest.

"The only time I have heard anything is from doing interviews. I don't really know what is being said or whatever. I understand there is a lot of pressure coming on though," he said.

Rather he takes placatory view, where the requirements of the moment necessitate the action undertaken.

"The refs are well trained, and they are all professional refs. They're the ones that make the rulings, and whether they are right or wrong they are the ones that are in the hot seat.

"Sometimes they are going to get them right and sometimes they will get them wrong. You certainly try and push the boundaries now and then, sometimes you get away with it, and sometimes you don't.

"The public just has to understand, it is just a game and people are always trying to push the laws and the referees are not going to get it right all the time, you've got to give and take a bit I suppose," he said.

However, as any flanker knows, you don't give too much, but you take plenty.