Radar tracking a Blues storm
IF the Blues' tactics suit the Brisbane weather today, Pat Lam can add meteorology to his coaching resume.
His attention to weather forecasts has some in the side calling him Jim Hickey but Lam is unperturbed by the ribbing and more satisfied his gameplans so far have dovetailed with match conditions.
For most of this week the Blues have trained in tough conditions and their final hitout for their top-of the table clash with the Reds came in heavy rain on a soggy field. They adjusted their practice, though, in anticipation of dry weather in Brisbane.
"We've got a plan for that as we head into the rain here," Lam said after naming his side.
"First thing I always do the day after the game is get the forecast for the week ahead and I just track it religiously every day, seeing where it is. There is sun both days and it is looking good, 99.9 per cent I'm sure it is going to be sunny," he added.
"So we know we will have the chance to play the game we like to play, rather than the game we have to play."
The Blues have reclaimed the experience of Luke McAlister and Anthony Boric from the injury list, shifted roles for Benson Stanley, Rene Ranger and Chris Lowrey and placed Lachie Munro on the bench, while Jerome Kaino is on a week's recuperation.
Lam said he and the selectors had looked at the best way to play the Reds, sorted out a gameplan and picked players they thought could implement it.
The Blues trained indoors to escape the rain but were outside later doing some skill work in a session with a great deal of unopposed content.
"It's a bit of a reverse when we've had really nice weather and have wet the balls and slowed things up because we know what's coming," said Lam. "So this training will probably be a lot more unopposed so we play to the conditions in mind."
Reds playmaker Quade Cooper might have some questions about his defence but the Blues' task was to play to their own team structures and work hard off the ball to create chances.
"We can't go and play as individuals. We have to go with our team pattern and team culture in a cauldron where they haven't lost for a long time," Lam said. "The emphasis has to be on our team ethos."
The Blues and Reds would have a chance to play styles they wanted, rather than being dictated to by conditions.
"That is the big difference. Both teams like to use the ball and should thrive in those conditions and it should be a real cracker of a match. As you can see from outside it is a good time to get out of New Zealand."
Brisbane would be a huge game, just like the week before in Wellington. The Blues had to stay ahead of the chasing pack and needed to be on their game again, especially away from home.
It was an expanded competition but that had not altered the Blues' focus. They kept to the same approach each week, the same routines and habits and were getting the business done.
They expected huge expat support at Suncorp Stadium from a crowd of more than 30,000 but finding warm weather did not equate to a try-scoring return for the Blues. It was about the team having a clear idea on their strategies and then delivering intensity and execution.
"We need to be ball tough and accurate," added Lam.
Experience would be crucial for the Blues and captain Keven Mealamu and tighthead John Afoa would bring that in the pack. They were playing well and were on reduced trainings during the week, so they were match fresh.
"They have nowhere near the load they have done in previous years and after next week we go into the bye."
The Reds have named centre Ben Tapuai as the replacement for injured utility Mike Harris for tomorrow night's match.
15: Jared Payne, 14: Joe Rokocoko, 13: Benson Stanley, 12: Luke McAlister, 11: Rene Ranger, 10: Stephen Brett, 9: Alby Mathewson, 8: Peter Saili, 7: Luke Braid, 6: Chris Lowrey, 5: Ali Williams, 4: Anthony Boric, 3: John Afoa, 2: Keven Mealamu (c), 1: Tevita Mailau.
Reserves: Tom McCartney, Pauliasi Manu, James King, Sean Polwart, Chris Smylie, Lachie Munro, Sherwin Stowers.
15: Ben Lucas, 14: Luke Morahan, 13: Anthony Faingaa, 12: Ben Tapuai, 11: Digby Ioane, 10: Quade Cooper, 9: Will Genia, 8: Radike Samo, 7: Beau Robinson, 6: Scott Higginbotham, 5: James Horwill (c), 4: Rob Simmons, 3: James Slipper, 2: Saia Faingaa, 1: Ben Daley.
Reserves: James Hanson, Guy Shepherdson, Adam Wallace-Harrison, Jake Schatz, Ian Prior, Will Chambers, Dom Shipperley