The Blues were left short-staffed yesterday as they began preparations for a difficult assignment against the Stormers at North Harbour Stadium on Friday night.
Young guns Charles Piutau and Steven Luatua were sent home suffering from the flu, while Rene Ranger was in Middlemore hospital on a drip due to an infection in his finger.
Midfielder Jackson Willison, the only player to score a try in last week’s narrow 11-12 loss to the Reds, was also ruled out of training with a sprained ankle, but all four are expected to be fit and available to take on the Stormers.
The news is not so positive for hooker James Parsons. The 26-year-old has been in impressive form this season but a neck injury will almost certainly take him out of this week’s clash, with scans later today expected to reveal the full extent of the injury.
It’s hardly the ideal build-up for what shapes as a season-defining game for the Blues at the halfway stage of the competition.
“It is week 11 for us so we knew people would be tired,” Blues head coach Sir John Kirwan said.
“Most of the guys that are hurt or are sick have played the biggest numbers. Charles has played every minute of every game and has done every training run so we expected this.
“Everyone’s tired. It’s mid-competition and we have to be careful about how much work we do on the training field.”
Trailing the Chiefs by three points and just two points ahead of the Crusaders in the New Zealand Conference, the Blues desperately need to nail this home game to maintain their position in the top six.
Kirwan confirmed Keven Mealamu would make his first start of the season in the absence of Parsons, with Quentin MacDonald providing cover on the bench.
“Part of the plan is for him to get back into it and now is a good time,” Kirwan said of Mealamu’s reintroduction.
“He’s been on the bench three weekends and he’s ready to go. JP’s been fantastic for us and Kev will step up this week.”
After an energy sapping game against the Reds, this week was all about recovering and running through the game plan ahead of what Kirwan believes will be an incredibly brutal encounter.
“We need to be up for them physically,” he said.
“Obviously they’re very good mauling and around the breakdown. The African sides throw different stuff at us so we just need to be ready for that.
“They’re also very good on defence so the attack coach is going to have to earn his money this week.”
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