Kaino to captain Blues against Brumbies
In just his third game back for the franchise, Jerome Kaino will captain the Blues against the Brumbies this week.
Sir John Kirwan's injury troubles have struck double figures with the midfield and loose-forward areas joining an already-troubling locking crisis.
In-form midfielder Jackson Willison will sit-out Friday's trip to Canberra with battered ribs and a knee complaint.
Blues skipper Luke Braid, who is struggling after a heavy work-load with a shoulder stinger and won't be involved in any contact sessions until later in the week, will come off the bench.
"We need to be careful with him," Kirwan said of his workaholic openside flanker.
"It's not great, we've got a beaten up Jackson Willison this week and with [lock] Tom Donnelly out we're struggling a wee bit.
"Jacko is probably going to be unavailable this week. Luke Braid is really struggling as well and Peter Saili is in a moonboot."
Braid's niggles may leave the Blues in need of a new captain. With Keven Mealamu still working his way back from a calf strain, Kaino has been handed the leadership duties in just his third game - second start - since returning from a two-year stint in Japan.
"Someone like Jerome is putting his hand up pretty quick. He'll take over the captaincy role for us," Kirwan said.
The loose-forward trio is expected to again feature Luatua at No.8, Kaino at blindside flanker and Brendon O'Connor taking over Braid's starting spot.
Donnelly's calf injury reduces the Blues to just two fit locks - Hayden Triggs and Liaki Moli.
Luatua will again be required to provide second-row cover against the Brumbies.
"We'll probably use Steven to cover lock late in the game."
In the midfield, Kirwan said All Blacks second five-eighth Francis Saili would make his return from a six-week injury layoff via the bench.
"He's trained well all week, he certainly brings us lots of spark and enthusiasm and it's nice to have him back running freely so he's excited and we're looking forward to getting him back out there," Kirwan said.
"He could play 80 minutes, he' a fit young man but that's probably not ideal so into the second half, we just need to see what's going and try and get him on like we did with Ma'a and Jerome last week."
Ma'a Nonu and George Moala are expected to team-up with Tevita Li coming onto the left wing.
Benji Marshall remains on the bench.
Kirwan said the Brumbies posed a huge challenge.
"They're top of the Aussie conference, they beat the Waratahs a couple of weeks ago so they're going to be a very hard team to beat. They're very organised, very structured, very physical and finalists last year so we'll have to be right on our game to beat them."
He also said it was time to start winning away from home if the Blues were to be considered serious title contenders.
"This year everyone's losing away from home but I think if you want to be around at the end of the season then you need to start winning away. There's no harder place to go and win [than Canberra] but I think that's quite exciting. We're 0-3 away from home and we need to get that straight."
Blues: Charles Piutau, Frank Halai, George Moala, Ma'a Nonu, Tevita Li, Simon Hickey, Bryn Hall, Steven Luatua, Brendon O'Connor, Jerome Kaino (c), Hayden Triggs, Liaki Moli, Charlie Faumuina, Tom McCartney, Tony Woodcock. Reserves: James Parsons, Sam Prattley, Angus Ta'avao, Jordan Manihera, Luke Braid, Sonatane Takulua, Francis Saili, Benji Marshall.