Kirwan has midfield Blues

Mon, 24 Feb 2014 09:30
Large francis saili blues smiles Large john kirwan looks

Blues coach John Kirwan will have to dig deep into his midfield reserves ahead of their Round Three Super Rugby encounter with the Crusaders.

Blues coach John Kirwan will have to dig deep into his midfield reserves ahead of their Round Three Super Rugby encounter with the Crusaders.

Star centre Francis Saili, one of the Blues' best players in his team's mostly lacklustre performance in their 21-29 loss to the Highlanders in Dunedin at the weekend, has joined All Black midfielder Ma'a Nonu on the sidelines.

Captain Luke Braid is another key player likely to miss the Eden Park showdown.

Braid is highly doubtful, though Kirwan said he will wait till Thursday to see how he responds to his high ankle sprain - which was placed in a moon boot in Dunedin.

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.

Saili will not just be sidelined from the encounter with the Crusaders, but will also miss the two-week trip to South Africa - where they will play Bulls in Pretoria and Lions in Johannesburg. He will also miss The Blues' encounter with the Cheetahs in Auckland on March 22 and 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.

"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 said he won't rush 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 South Africa, or the first one back in Auckland.

"If I did that I'd be going against what I said," Kirwan said.

"We need him [Nonu] back when he's 100 percent fit and he's only just started training."

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."

North Harbour midfielder 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.

Sources: NZ Herald & Fairfax NZ News

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