Blues prop Charlie Faumuina has been ruled out of Friday night’s local derby against the Chiefs with a medial ligament strain.
Faumuina was the unfortunate casualty of a physical contact session on Monday as the Blues ripped into training in the wake of their 18-19 loss to the Crusaders last week.
With All Black Tony Woodcock still on leave and yet to join the team, the Blues will be without their top props for Friday night’s clash as Blues head coach Pat Lam conceded Faumuina was a big loss.
“Charlie is looking in good nick and he’s an experienced prop for us, he’s our number one tighthead at this stage and on the back of Woody not being available it’s a big hit for us,” Lam said.
Tevita Mailau will start at tighthead in place of Faumuina in the only change to the starting XV from last week, and Lam said he was confident the 26-year-old would step up and do the job on Friday night.
“We trust our depth and that when the next player gets the chance he steps up and does the business. Tevita’s been with us for a while and he’s an experienced campaigner, he sits in the wings waiting for his chance and he works hard and so he’ll get his opportunity on Friday and I’m confident he’ll do a good job.”
With Mailau moving from the bench to the starting team, it gives young up-and-coming prop Angus Ta’avao the opportunity to earn his first cap after being named on the reserves list.
New Zealand Under-20 star Gareth Anscombe also gets the chance to make his Blues debut off the pine after impressing in the Blues Development Team’s 51-7 victory over the Crusader Knights last week, a match in which he scored a personal tally of 22 points.
Lam said he considered making changes to the starting XV but decided to give the players an opportunity to right the wrongs of last week’s match.
“We looked at the team and contemplated making changes but at the end of the day we realised that right across the board, while some guys played well, every single player could have stepped up and played a bit better so we decided as a coaching team we’d give them another opportunity.”
The Chiefs have their own casualties to contend with after suffering long-term injuries to props Ben Afeaki and Toby Smith, halfback Brendon Leonard and wing Lelia Masaga.
But Lam said he was expecting nothing less than a fierce challenge from the local rivals.
“At the end of the day whoever pulls the Chiefs jersey, you just have to tell them they’re playing the Blues and you know they’re going to come out firing so that’s what we’re expecting, nothing different.
“The key is we front, match their intensity and better it because there are two teams that lost the opening round, two teams that are desperate for a win and two teams that will really go for it so I’m expecting a great clash. It’s never an easy game against the Chiefs.”
The Blues side to face the Chiefs at Waikato Stadium on Friday night (kick-off 7.35pm) is: