Injury woes for Blues ahead of Crusaders clash
Blues coach Sir John Kirwan could at least see the funny side of a lengthening injury list set to rule skipper Luke Braid and All Black Francis Saili out of Friday's Super Rugby clash against the Crusaders at Eden Park.
Saturday's disappointing 29-21 season-opening defeat to the Highlanders in Dunedin has come at a cost, and as Kirwan ran through his list of walking wounded, he added himself to the succession of names with a severe headache.
Braid is highly doubtful, though they'll wait till Thursday to see how he responds to his high ankle sprain which was immediately placed in a moon boot in Dunedin on Saturday night.
Saili is no chance to play the Crusaders and will miss the fortnight-long trip to South Africa as well, returning either to face the Cheetahs in Auckland on March 22 or the home clash against the Highlanders a week later.
The 23-year-old midfielder has a suspected stress fracture in his right foot - an injury he took into the Highlanders game and did not report to the Blues medical team.
He played through it in some discomfort, though it didn't stop him scoring a spectacular individual try early in the second half.
"It's positive what he's trying to do - working really hard," Kirwan said.
"I just think he's been doing some stuff outside of what he probably should have been doing, and has put some extra stress on it."
Saili said he'd learned a lesson and would in future report all pains as soon as they occurred.
"I'm trying to stay optimistic and not really think about it too much," he said.
Kirwan had a number of other players also sitting out today's debrief training session. Steven Luatua (ankle), Charles Piutau (knee) and Patrick Tuipulotu (ankle) all have knocks that will have to be monitored, though Kirwan's hopeful all three will play against the Crusaders.
On the positive side he will have All Blacks Keven Mealamu and Tony Woodcock back to strengthen his front row in the clash between two teams who have started the competition a little on the slow side.
"It's a short week and we're trying to fit a week's work into two days and trying to get them recovered as well. The Crusaders have got an extra day on us. We've planned for it, but it's still difficult."
Kirwan won't rush Ma'a Nonu back ahead of schedule to fill the midfield breach, with the veteran All Black now on course to play either the second game in Africa, or the first one back.
"If I did that I'd be going against what I said," Kirwan said. "We need him back when he's 100 percent fit and he's only just started training."
Fit-again North Harbour centre Peter Akhi is the likely centre for Friday, with wing George Moala also able to cover there. Kirwan said they'd pondered moving Charles Piutau there, and it was a position they believed he could fill for them. Just not quite yet.
"He will end up there - we just don't know when. But it won't be this week."
Kirwan also confirmed Benji Marshall would stay as a bench option covering fullback, which meant Chris Noakes would get the chance to bounce back from a "hard evening" in Dunedin.
"You saw what he brought to us," Kirwan said of Marshall's busy second-half introduction off the bench. "I haven't changed from last week - I still think he's learning the game, and I think he's going to learn a lot more playing and being back at fullback."
Former All Black Jerome Kaino will join the Blues on Thursday, but he wouldn't be considered until after they return from South Africa.