The Blues have been dealt a significant blow even before the season has begun - experienced lock Culum Retallick has been ruled out of action for six months - while Sonny Bill Williams is said to be joining Counties.
Williams is thought to be joining Counties as part of their ITM Cup squad next year, though it is not clear how much he will actually play for them. The connection with the Tana Umaga-coached team may also help Williams play sevens for Counties as part of his goal to make the 2016 Olympics with the national sevens team.
Retallick, 28, ruptured the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in his right knee during a training drill this week. The 1.98m lock had a scan on Thursday and is scheduled to have surgery in the New Year. The 1.99m, 114kg former Chiefs and Highlanders second-rower (and cousin of All Blacks lock Brodie) was set to be a cornerstone of the Blues pack this year after the departure of Ali Williams. Now, with good locks in short supply, the Blues may have to press All Blacks loose forward Steven Luatua into the engine room or look overseas for a replacement.
"I'm absolutely gutted," Retallick said. "I was incredibly motivated for a big year with the Blues in 2014 and had been enjoying a tough pre-season with the guys, so it's a pretty cruel blow to have this happen before the season has even started. Hopefully I can still play a part with the team towards the latter end of the season."
Blues head coach Sir John Kirwan said Retallick was a big loss for the team: "There's no denying he is a big loss for us," Kirwan said."He's a very difficult player to replace. He had a great season for us in 2013, he's experienced, a good lineout technician and is a very big part of this team, so it's a big blow.
"In consultation with the surgeon, we're going to evaluate the damage to his knee and the big decision for us is whether we can get him back in time for the end of the season or whether we're going to need to replace him."
A decision on whether or not Retallick will be replaced will be made in the New Year.