Patrick McKendry

Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

Rugby: Nonu's return still on hold

Injury-hit Blues will need all the backup they can get against the Crusaders.

Ma'a Nonu has been ruled out of a return for the Blues against the Crusaders on Friday. Photo / Getty
Ma'a Nonu has been ruled out of a return for the Blues against the Crusaders on Friday. Photo / Getty

Midfielder Francis Saili, one of the Blues' best players in his team's mostly lacklustre performance against the Highlanders in Dunedin, is an injury concern for coach Sir John Kirwan, but Ma'a Nonu has already been ruled out of the next match against the Crusaders.

All Blacks second-five Nonu joined the Blues following ankle surgery in the off-season and was thought to be a chance against Todd Blackadder's men - a team also on the rebound after an opening defeat - at Eden Park on Friday night.

But Kirwan said yesterday the 31-year-old 88-test veteran was simply not fit enough.

"He's only just started running," Kirwan said. "It's still too early for him, he won't be playing."

The leadership and directness that an in-form and motivated Nonu could have provided would have been manna from heaven for Kirwan and the Blues after the Highlanders' 29-21 victory on Saturday, which at one stage looked like turning into a rout.

Saili suffered a foot injury during the match, in which he linked with newcomer Benji Marshall to score a brilliant chip-and-chase try to continue the momentum of his team's comeback. He returned to Auckland yesterday in a moonboot ahead of a scheduled x-ray.

After failing to fire a shot in the first half and turning at 24-0 down, the Blues' fightback was impressive but ultimately futile. To compound matters, Chris Noakes, who had a difficult evening at first-five, missed a relatively easy penalty on fulltime which would have earned his team a losing bonus point.

The casualty list doesn't end with Saili, either. Flanker and captain Luke Braid has an ankle injury and fellow loose forward Steven Luatua has a similar, but less serious, problem.

The good news for Kirwan is that All Blacks front rowers Keven Mealamu and Tony Woodcock will be available against the Crusaders after their extra week's rest.

The bad news is that they will need all the reinforcements they can get against the Crusaders, who lost to the Chiefs in Christchurch, before they head to South Africa for matches against the Bulls and Lions. The Bulls aren't the team of old, but Loftus Versfeld can be an intimidating place to visit, and the Lions, with two victories from two, are having an exceptional start.

"It's like we started the season in the second half," Kirwan said. "We charged back into it after halftime and in the end we could have got one or two [bonus] points, but it is very disappointing. We can't let teams get those sorts of starts. We put ourselves under too much pressure with turnovers and errors in contact.

"We played too much rugby in our own territory, which can be fatal if you make mistakes."

The aggression of the Blues' forwards was notable after the break, but Kirwan said there was no halftime blast. "I was really positive at halftime. I just said if we fixed up our errors and stopped turning the ball over we would be fine and that was the case. I was pretty animated, but positive, at halftime."

- NZ Herald

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