Patrick McKendry is a rugby and boxing writer for the Herald.

All Blacks: Rough road for All Blacks' Blues

Mealamu and his test mates have little chance to enjoy clean sweep as they set off piecemeal for Durban.

All Black Keven Mealamu will rejoin his Blues teammates in Durban today. Photo / Getty Images
All Black Keven Mealamu will rejoin his Blues teammates in Durban today. Photo / Getty Images

Of all the All Blacks returning to the Super rugby competition after the three-test sweep of France, it is perhaps Keven Mealamu and his fellow Blues players who have it the toughest.

The majority of the Blues are already in Durban for the match against the Sharks at Kings Park on Sunday morning (NZT), with their All Blacks teammates Mealamu, Steven Luatua, Charles Piutau, Francis Saili, Piri Weepu and Rene Ranger making their way over in dribs and drabs.

All Blacks newcomers Luatua, Piutau and Saili left yesterday morning, along with Weepu. The former pair made their test debuts on Saturday night.

Mealamu is due to leave today. It is understood Ranger, who has a new baby, will leave on Wednesday.

They arrived at their homes from the third test in New Plymouth on Sunday afternoon.

John Kirwan's team are still in the play-off equation in eighth - one point behind the seventh-placed Waratahs and three points behind the sixth-placed Crusaders, so at least the two matches in the Republic will be meaningful. A week after the Sharks, the Blues play the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein.

Both matches are likely to be extremely physical. The Sharks, sitting 10th, are unlikely to feature beyond the regular season, but boast one of the biggest packs of the competition. The Cheetahs, fifth, and with a relatively comfortable run home, have everything to play for.

"We're still in the hunt. We have a bit of travel coming up but we're pretty excited," Mealamu said. "We want to go over there and make sure we push our team a bit further in this competition."

Hooker Mealamu, capped 104 times, found himself in an unusual position during the France series. He didn't start a test; his longest run coming at Eden Park in the opener when he came on for Dane Coles after 56 minutes. He played 16 minutes at New Plymouth and wasn't in the match-day squad in Christchurch.

Coles' calf injury before the weekend's test at Yarrow Stadium allowed Mealamu his cameo and he conceded the past three weeks had been "different". It is also something he might have to get used to - the All Blacks selectors are committed to Coles now, with Andrew Hore and Mealamu probably consigned to back-up roles.

Reflecting on the France series, the 34-year-old Mealamu expected the intensity of the Rugby Championship to be several notches higher, an opinion made after watching coverage of the Wallabies against the Lions in Brisbane.

"You look at the Aussies playing the Lions. By the time we come up against them in the Championship they'll be battle-hardened.Obviously the French have finished a long season and they've probably come down here a bit tired as well. We won't expect the same in the Championship."

Asked if the Lions tour could leave Australia flat, Mealamu said: "There's that opportunity for them to go either way, either hit the wall or grow stronger. We expect them to take the second option."

The Chiefs play the Hurricanes in Hamilton on Friday night and the Highlanders host the Crusaders on Saturday.

Super rugby's top eight

Brumbies: Played 15, points 59.
Chiefs: Played 13, points 56.
Bulls: Played 13, points 54.
Reds: Played 15, points 54.
Cheetahs: Played 14, points 46.
Crusaders: Played 13, points 46.
Waratahs: Played 15, points 44.
Blues: Played 13, points 43.


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