The Blues’ recent winning pre-season run came to an abrupt halt against the Hurricanes, beaten 26-14 in a Super Rugby pre-season game in Warkworth yesterday.
But far more concerning for Blues coach Tana Umaga are the injuries to starting loose forwards Jerome Kaino, Jimmy Tupou and Dalton Papali’i.
The trio left the Mahurangi Rugby Club field in the first half and their conditions were not readily available to Umaga afterwards.
But he was worried enough to substitute fellow loose forwards Murphy Taramai and Akira Ioane in case they were also injured.
Veteran All Black Kaino and the tall, athletic Tupou would have been almost certain starters for the Blues’ first match of the Super Rugby season against the Highlanders in Dunedin next Friday, but Kaino, his left knee already heavily strapped, must be a considerable doubt in particular.
Tupou also appeared to injure a leg but it was not immediately known what the problem was with Papali’i.
“As we know, it’s not good when they come off,” Umaga said. “It’s an area where we are a bit thin.”
Blake Gibson had already signalled he would miss the start of the season through injury but fellow loose forward Antonio Kirikiri could be available, Umaga said.
The Blues had looked good in preseason to this point, beating the Chiefs in Te Kuiti and claiming the Brisbane Global Rugby Tens title last weekend, but they had little answer to the Hurricanes’ pressure after a positive first half.
Penalties, lineout misses and an inability to retain possession all went against them, suggesting the next few days will be extremely important as they plot a winning start to the season proper.
“There were a few mistakes but we think we can rectify those going in to the first game,” Umaga said.
“Credit to the Hurricanes — they wanted a good hit-out and they gave it to us. There were some good lessons there for us.”
The Hurricanes board a flight to Australia tomorrow before travelling to South Africa for their match against the Bulls, and the way they finished yesterday will put pressure on coach Chris Boyd’s selection skills.
“Some of the contenders really put their hands up, which was great to see,” Boyd said.
A week out from the Blues’ opener in Dunedin, the Highlanders beat the Crusaders 42-26 in a pre-season match at Waimumu in Southland last night, scoring five tries to four.