ABs contingent, Francis Saili back for Blues
The Blues will welcome back crocked All Black Francis Saili to face the Force in Saturday night’s must-win Super Rugby game in Perth, while fellow international Charles Piutau is only another week away.
Coach Sir John Kirwan yesterday confirmed he would have his full contingent of All Blacks available on the back of their 3-0 sweep of the English, and the situation pretty much demanded he used them.
The Blues are anchored to the foot of the New Zealand conference with 31 points courtesy of a 6-7 record that’s exacerbated by going 0-7 on the road.
They need to win their three remaining matches – a visit to the Crusaders and home clash against the Chiefs follow – to have any hope of squeezing into the top six. Even then they may require a result or two to fall their way elsewhere.
The return of Saili boosts the midfield stock, with Jackson Willison also proving his return to fitness as part of the Blues squad that won the weekend’s inaugural World 10s tournament in Singapore.
But it’s the big guns, such as the in-form Jerome Kaino, front-rowers Tony Woodcock, Charlie Faumuina and Keven Mealamu, rookie lock Patrick Tuipulotu and veteran midfielder Ma’a Nonu, whose leadership and skills will be needed to complete this escape act.
Kirwan gave his All Blacks yesterday off to rest up and reconnect with their families, but expected them all to report fit and healthy today ahead of tomorrow’s flight to Perth.
‘‘I’ve spoken to all the guys in the All Blacks and they’re really keen to get back into the Blues environment,’’ Kirwan said.
‘‘We’ve got a hard ask but everyone is really positive about what we’re doing. The one game that’s really important for us is this week, and it’s a balance between resting them up, refreshing the legs and making sure we’re ready to go.’’
Two players from the 10s, Piri Weepu and Ofa Tu’ungafasi, will travel directly from Singapore to Perth, while a decision on any others required would be made today.
Kirwan said the 10s victory had given his players a much needed spring in their steps as they reassembled post-June hiatus for the three-week run-in to finals footy.
‘Tens is something we want to concentrate on – it’s great for our brand overseas. I see it as a real positive. The guys are going to come back and inject a bit of excitement, we’re all clapping and yahooing this morning, and we’ve got a trophy in the cabinet which is important.’’ Their chances of adding to it this season hang by a thread. To have any chance they must end a road losing streak that dates back to the beginning of last season.
Having Saili back from his ankle problems will help. And Kirwan confirmed that Piutau could return from his knee injury for next week’s visit to Christchurch, and Simon Hickey possibly the week after that.
The equation, meanwhile, is an uncomplicated one: win or kiss goodbye to those playoffs.