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Why the rush? Benji just needed more time

Benji Marshall in action. AAP Image/Action Photographics, Renee McKay
Expert
1st May, 2014
23
1634 Reads

Ever since Benji Marshall sat in front of the camera and announced his impending move to rugby union with the Auckland Blues, it’s been anything but a smooth transition.

Whether it was his choice to wear the Blues jersey in the now infamous YouTube post or not, it didn’t send the right message to fans and teammates at the Wests Tigers.

It lead to an awkward and uncomfortable last couple of months at the club, in what should have been a jubilant send off following his outstanding and influential contribution over his 10 years at the franchise.

More crucially, the announcement came only 12 hours after the Tigers’ 14th loss of the season, and while he was still legally contracted to the club.

It was a case of bad judgement, bad timing.

In hindsight, I’m sure Benji regretted it and the message that it sent.

His recent departure from the Blues comes after five months in the code, making only six appearances and only one start for the club.

That’s not enough time to grasp the intricacies of the game, let alone become an All Black, which he described as a main motivator for the move.

All Blacks coach Steve Hansen echoed this sentiment last week, as he refused to criticise Marshall for quitting New Zealand rugby so soon, but outlined he didn’t give himself enough time to make it a successful switch.

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Time has been at the centre of his struggle to be successful in a code switch that requires adaptability and patience.

Had he seen out his two-year contract, I’m sure he would have made a significant impact in the game, and perhaps gone on to be a dual international.

He has the raw ability and is a natural playmaker, possessing skills that you can’t teach, unbelievable footwork and an innate ability to read the game.

It was the skills that he needed to be taught, most notably at the breakdown, that needed time to be embedded in his rugby brain to complete a successful transition.

Laws at the ruck are constantly being altered and the fact that in union, when the tackle is made, its only the beginning of the contest, is something that requires constant work on the training ground.

He was also thrusts into a position where you have significantly less time than in league.

The defensive line in union is up in your face much quicker than in league, not having to be 10 metres back.

At fly half, you are also the main communicator on the field, given the role to guide your team around the park and be the main link between the forwards and the backs.

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You build the confidence of bossing your teammates around on the training ground, but it’s on match day when it really matters and you are performing under more pressure, with unpredictable factors influencing your every decision.

Only starting one match for the Blues didn’t give Marshall the familiarity with the role that would have come with more time on the pitch. It wouldn’t have mattered if it came for the A team or in the Super Rugby. You build confidence in any match day situation.

Of the six Australian dual internationals in the professional era, all were specialist outside backs. Only one, Mat Rogers, spent time in the stand off position.

His first start at 10 came in 2005, three years after his Wallabies debut. This outlined the tough ask Marshall was faced with.

He now returns to rugby league, and at the age of 29, still has plenty of time to continue where he left off.

The success of an individual’s career is measured over time, and when Marshall eventually hangs up the boots, he will be remembered as one of the greats of the NRL and New Zealand rugby league.

His rugby union career won’t be remembered with the same praise, but that is something that might have come with a little more time.

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