Injury further depletes the Blues locking stocks

MARC HINTON
Last updated 12:28 31/03/2014
Tom Donnelly
JASON OXENHAM/ Getty
INJURED: Tom Donnelly's got a lengthy time on the sidelines ahead.
Steven Luatua
Photosport
TALENTED: Steven Luatua may not normally be a lock, but he can offer quality cover there.

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Veteran Blues lock Tom Donnelly has been ruled out of Friday's Super Rugby clash against the Brumbies in Canberra.

The 32-year-old started on the bench in Saturday's 30-12 victory over the Highlanders and he strained a calf while warming up with the reserves, meaning he was unable to take the field as planned.

Donnelly's injury further depletes the Blues' locking stocks, with Culum Retallick already ruled out for the season with an ACL rupture and the promising Patrick Tuipulotu sidelined with a knee injury.

Development player Tom Murday is due back this week from his own knee injury, but was likely to be despatched to Northland club rugby to build his match fitness.

That leaves coach Sir John Kirwan with just two fully fit specialist locks in Liaki Moli and Hayden Triggs, with the latter impressing in his first appearance for the franchise on Saturday night.

"He's been a real find," said Kirwan of the journeyman second-rower called up from Japan to replace Retallick.

"He's a great man to have around the side, and calls a spade a spade."

With Donnelly's unexpected loss, Triggs had to play longer than intended on Saturday, before eventually being spelled when Steven Luatua was moved to lock late in the game.

The All Black loose forward will continue to cover the second row for Kirwan this week, although the Blues coach has said repeatedly he did not regard Luatua as a potential starting lock.

The Blues will get All Black midfielder Francis Saili back this week as he makes his return from a stress injury in a foot, though with the midfield combination of Ma'a Nonu and Jackson Willison playing so well against the Highlanders he was likely to chase a bench role at best.

Kirwan lauded Nonu's performance against the Highlanders and also said he had been impressed by what Willison continued to offer in the centres.

"Jackson has been incredible for us the last couple of weeks, and is one of those guys who gives you 100 [per cent] every week, and that's what we want," Kirwan said.

"Ma'a brought a real calming influence, and was fantastic. There's been a little bit of an attitude change within the camp and everyone is working hard."

No 8 Peter Saili will have his mid-foot sprain examined today and it is hoped he will also be available to face the Brumbies - though Kirwan may be reluctant to tinker with the loose trio of Jerome Kaino, Luatua and Luke Braid that performed so well against the Highlanders.

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All Black hooker Keven Mealamu, who suffered a calf strain while in South Africa, is "progressing slowly" and Kirwan said he would start doing some field-based running this week.

It's hoped Mealamu will be back in the selection picture for the round-10 clash against the Hurricanes that follows the bye.

Halfback Jamison Gibson-Park (stress injury) was also targeting the Hurricanes game to make his return, with Northland's Sonatane Takulua continuing to train with the team this week in the continued absence of Piri Weepu (health problems).

The Blues confirmed five-eighth Baden Kerr had surgery last week on his broken fingers and would remain sidelined for a significant period of time.

The Blues were now just a point behind the Chiefs at the top of the New Zealand conference, and lay sixth overall with a 3-3 record.

Kirwan described Saturday night's impressive three-tries-to-none victory over the Highlanders as "a line in the sand" and said focus would switch immediately to backing it up against the dangerous Brumbies who were upset by the Melbourne Rebels in round seven.

"We can't get carried away," Kirwan said.

"This was an important win, but we've got to keep working hard. We've got the Brumbies over there on a short turnaround, coming off a loss, and that's a big ask."

The Blues will name their team on Wednesday to face the Brumbies.

- Stuff

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