Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

Rugby: Two more names pop up as roster touches 40

Rudi Wulf is a long-term fullback casualty. Photo / Brett Phibbs.
Rudi Wulf is a long-term fullback casualty. Photo / Brett Phibbs.

New names keep cropping up on the Blues roster.

Thirty-eight players have worn the colours this season with two more likely to be added to the list after the side hosts the Force tomorrow at Eden Park.

National sevens rep Charles Piutau will debut at fullback tomorrow while one-time utility Orene Ai'i has been drafted in from Japan as injuries continue to bite into the team's resources.

Isaia Toeava and Rudi Wulf are long-term fullback casualties, Lachie Munro is needed elsewhere, Hadleigh Parkes is on the bench so age-group rep Piutau comes into the side from the wider training group.

After nearly three months' injury absence from the Blues, captain Keven Mealamu returns to test his leadership and ability against another of the game's veterans, Nathan Sharpe, who is in his last season with the Force.

The visitors have lost regular captain David Pocock and Matt Hodgson to injury while former Blues centre Winston Stanley returns to face his former teammates.

"There's been a bit of banter with the Blues guys but I'm trying to keep it pretty low key," he said.

" I'd rather go out there and let my performance do the talking."

Mealamu has reinforced his pack although they have had to draft in Andrew van der Heijden at lock because of injuries and the suspension of Filo Paulo with a dozen players on the injured or unavailable list.

The Blues have not played for five weeks after the June internationals and last week's bye. Coach Pat Lam said the break had been refreshing because the Blues had been battling after a nine-game stretch.

"It has helped us getting the All Blacks back and having an extra week to recover and then we had two weeks of solid training. We simplified a lot of things and hopefully that will come through in the weekend."

Playing and coaching rugby for a job was a privilege and the side were determined to end their appearances at Eden Park this season with a victory.

Someone showing that sort of relish was Ma'a Nonu, Lam said. "He has trained well, he is raring to go and he is determined to get back out and play."

- NZ Herald

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