Piri Weepu had minor stroke

TIME OUT: Piri Weepu of the Blues looks on from the sideline during a match against the Chiefs in February.
TIME OUT: Piri Weepu of the Blues looks on from the sideline during a match against the Chiefs in February.

Blues halfback and former Hurricane Piri Weepu has suffered a minor stroke and is being given some time away from the game to get his health right.

Weepu has been suffering from sustained and intense headaches ever since the Blues left for South Africa at the start of March, and finally undertook scans on Monday to determine what was causing the problem.

Initial thoughts had been the problem was migraine related, but the Blues today confirmed Weepu had suffered a minor stroke and that he would not play in Saturday's Super Rugby clash against the Highlanders at Eden Park.

He is expected to be out of the game for around four weeks, but team doctor Stephen Kara said today he expected Weepu to make a full return to the team after that period.

"Piri presented with transient symptoms that could have been from a migraine before he travelled and was cleared by specialists to travel, as long as he was monitored.  He had no other symptoms to raise further concern while we were away," Dr Kara said.

"We took the precaution of getting an MRI scan for him this week and we are thankful we are now getting to the bottom of this issue.

"Having spoken to Auckland City Hospital specialists, we are very confident that Piri's condition is not associated with any injury, in particular, any head injury," Dr Kara added.

"This was a minor stroke and he is expected to make a full recovery. However any stroke is serious for anyone at any age and we must now take the time to fully understand the cause of it and the implications for Piri."

Bryn Hall replaces Weepu at No 9, while Sonatane Takulua comes on to the bench in a substantially-rejigged Blues XV featuring five personnel changes and two positional shifts from the group that held on to defeat the Cheetahs 40-30 last Saturday night.

Weepu told Fairfax Media earlier this week that the headaches had been "niggly" and more annoying than debilitating. He said he'd felt comfortable playing and training through them, though had had to take some time out on occasions to allow them to pass.

"I've basically been able to play through them," Weepu said. "During the week sometimes I'd have bad ones and I've just got to lie down and give myself a bit of time off, or just sit down and take a breath, and try to ease up a bit. I'm fine after that."

He said his initial concern was that he'd been suffering from a form of delayed concussion and had been puzzled when the headaches continued on a fairly regular basis.

But Weepu said he had made sure Dr Kara was fully aware of his problem.

"I'm turning 31 this year, I don't want to be hiding things so I can stay in the team every week," he said. "I'll make sure I tell him if anything is annoying me or if I'm feeling dizzy. We'll come up with a plan, but most of the time it's just sitting down, taking a breath and hopefully it comes right."

Dr Kara said today it was important to note that Weepu's minor stroke, believed to have been suffered on March 1, was not related to anything that had happened on the playing or training field.

"This is not a rugby-related incident," Dr Kara said. "It's not related to a concussive event or to any blow. This is just something that happens in the normal population.

Weepu has started every match for the Blues so far this season as they've compiled two home wins and three road defeats to lie second in the New Zealand conference on 12 points.

The 30-year-old played eight years of Super Rugby with the Hurricanes before joining the Blues in 2012. He has made 71 test appearances for the All Blacks and was a key member of the 2011 World Cup-winning side.

Meanwhile, after their returns from the bench last week, Ma'a Nonu and Jerome Kaino have been predictably promoted to the Blues' starting lineup to face the Highlanders.

Nonu forms yet another new midfield combination, starting in his accustomed position of second five-eighths, with Jackson Willison at centre. That forces George Moala out of the squad, with Pita Ahki coming on to the bench.

The loose forward trio now has an imposing look about it with Kaino starting at blindside flank and All Black Steven Luatua shifting to No 8 where he replaces Peter Saili.   

The Blues' struggling lineout has also been give a shakeup. Hayden Triggs will make his first start for the franchise at lock, with veteran Tom Donnelly dropped to the bench, while Tom McCartney has been favoured ahead of James Parsons at hooker for the first time this season.

BLUES: Charles Piutau, Frank Halai, Jackson Willison, Ma'a Nonu, George Moala, Simon Hickey, Bryn Hall; Steven Luatua, Luke Braid (capt), Jerome Kaino, Hayden Triggs, Liaki Moli, Charlie Faumuina, Tom McCartney, Tony Woodcock. Reserves: James Parsons, Ofa Tu'ungafasi, Angus Ta'avao, Tom Donnelly, Peter Saili, Sonatane Takulua, Peter Ahki, Benji Marshall.  

The Dominion Post