Patrick McKendry

Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

Rugby: Braid looks to Mealamu to end Christchurch hoodoo

Kevin Mealamu. Photo / Getty Images
Kevin Mealamu. Photo / Getty Images

As Blues captain Luke Braid contemplates a trip to Christchurch where he has never won at either Super Rugby or national provincial championship level, he can at least look to the evergreen Keven Mealamu for inspiration.

Saturday night's encounter against the Crusaders will be Mealamu's 150th for the Blues. Loose forward Braid said his teammates have already looked into Mealamu's record and have discovered he is approaching 350 first-class games, a phenomenal achievement. The great Colin Meads holds the record in New Zealand with 361 first-class matches.

Mealamu also played 11 matches for the Chiefs in 2002, so he is about to play his 161st Super Rugby match. Former Wallaby Nathan Sharpe holds the record with 162.

"Since I first came into the team I've always looked up to him," Braid said. "He's an incredible guy, so kind and caring, but when he's out on the field he'll die for you."

Coach John Kirwan described Mealamu, 35, as the Blues' "matai" or chief. "He's what we stand for, who we are - 150 games, more than 100 tests for the All Blacks - he's an incredibly humble man," Kirwan said.

That experience will be crucial if the Blues are to back up their impressive 40-14 victory over the Force in Perth last weekend. The match against the Crusaders, who will have received some home truths after their lacklustre 16-9 defeat to the Hurricanes in Wellington, is likely to be played in cold, and possibly wet, conditions which could suit the home team's more conservative tactics.

Braid is preparing to come up against Dan Carter at first-five and knows how important the Blues' kicking plan will be.

"The last time we played down there it was our first game of the season in the rain and we played everything within 10m of the halfway," he said of what was a 23-3 defeat. "They just kicked us into the corners and we got a yellow card.."

"They're really hard to beat down there," Kirwan said. "It will be tough, it will probably be wet and cold and we need to make sure all of our players are ready for it."

Fullback Charles Piutau is likely to start for the Blues, who have already ruled out prop Angus Ta'avao with a broken nose and concussion.

There is also a question mark over halfback Piri Weepu.

- APNZ

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