Orene's back and Blue

17:00, Jul 02 2012
Orene Ai'i
RETURN: Orene Ai'i won a Super Rugby title with the Blues in 2003.

A blast from the past is here to rescue the Blues, with Orene Ai'i likely to be in the squad of 22 for their game against the Western Force on Saturday night.

Ai'i, who played first-five for the Blues when they were last Super Rugby champions in 2003 and named IRB world sevens player of the year in 2005, has returned from Japan to play for Northland in this year's NPC.

He agreed to join the Taniwha because Auckland weren't interested in signing him and has been playing club rugby for Kamo in recent weeks.

However, with the Blues in the midst of an injury crisis Ai'i has been called up by coach Pat Lam and is now looking at the possibility of a first game for the franchise in six years.

Ai'i started training with the Blues during the four week break for the June tests and Lam says the 33-year-old has turned up in good shape.

"He is in pretty good condition," Lam said.

"The big thing at this stage is that Michael Hobbs is coming back from an injury, Gareth [Anscombe] is out and one of the biggest things at this level is having a guy who can run the show.

"He's an experienced player who can step in at the last minute. It is a big ask to grab a youngster at this stage of the competition.''

Ai'i spent time with the Hurricanes and Crusaders during his career, but is mostly remembered for his years with the Blues and his attacking, running style.

If he plays he should keep the Force defence guessing and could create space for Ma'a Nonu outside him.

Lam said Nonu had a well-earned break during the test period and despite being named in the All Blacks squad coach Steve Hansen never had any intention of playing him, believing that it was better for him to have a rest.

Lam agrees with this, but says he rarely got a chance to rest him.

"It was intended for us, but with the way our season panned out and all the backs went down he [Nonu] kept fronting for us," Lam said.

"But I have to say he looks in great nick. He has a big smile on his face and physically he is looking in great nick, he has trimmed down and raring to go.

"There aren't many people who play for 18 months in a row and for him, it was a great break and he gets the chance to have two good hit outs and then gets another chance to have a break because we're not in the playoffs and then build up for the Rugby Championship."

Meanwhile, Charles Piutau has also been called into the Blues squad. Piutau replaces Rudi Wulf, who is out for six to eight weeks because of a broken shoulder. He will undergo surgery tomorrow.

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