Mealamu to front Stormers
Mealamu to front StormersSHARE
All Black veteran Keven Mealamu will make his first start of the season for the Blues in Friday’s crunch clash with the Stormers at North Harbour Stadium.
James Parson was one of a handful of players who missed Monday’s preparations, the hooker awaiting scans on a neck injury sustained in the 11-12 loss to the Reds in Brisbane and expected to be given the week off, with Blues coach John Kirwan confirming Mealamu will slot into the starting XV.
“Part of the plan is for him [Mealamu] to get back into it, and now’s a good time,” said Kirwan on Monday.
“He’s been on the bench three weekends and he’s ready to go. JP [Parsons] has been fantastic for us and Kevvy will step up this week.”
Heading the list of walking wounded is inform centre Rene Ranger, who was in hospital receiving IV fluids after contracting an infection in his finger.
Also absent were fullback Charlie Piutau and loose forward Steven Luatua, who were both laid low by a dose of flu. All three players, however, are expected to train with the squad on Wednesday.
Inside centre Jackson Willison is the other injury concern after picking up an ankle sprain in last Friday’s match.
Kirwan said the absentees were part and parcel of a gruelling campaign and no cause for panic.
“We knew people would be tired. Most of the guys who are hurt or sick have played the biggest numbers. Charles has played every minute of every game, and done every training run,” he said.
“We expected this so today’s just about getting clarity and trying to take the load off them this week so we can get up for Friday.”
Kirwan also confirmed that centre Francis Saili and wing George Moala will both be available for selection after their respective punishments for breaking team protocols.
The Blues sit fifth on the log and second in the New Zealand Conference on 32 points, but with just four points separating them from visitors the 10th-placed Stormers, a win on Friday will be crucial to remain in the play-off picture.
“It’s halfway through the competition, I’m really pleased with them, really proud of them but we need to get up again for Friday night and stay in touch,” said Kirwan.
He added that his team would have to match the Stormers’ physically after the Cape side muscled their way to a 18-16 win over the Hurricanes in Palmerston North last Friday.
“They’re really aggressive, so we need to be up for them physically. They’re very good mauling and around the breakdown, and the African sides throw different stuff at us so we just need to be ready for that.
“They’re very good on defence. The attack coach is going to earn his money this week. They’re good right across the board, they frustrate teams, they’re in there at the breakdown and that’s typical of an African side. They’ll be really tough,” said Kirwan.
Source: Fairfax NZ