Patrick McKendry

Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

Rugby: Weepu's quick return a surprise

Piri Weepu's neurologist and cardiologist have decided to let him train with a view to playing the Waratahs next week. Photo / Getty Images
Piri Weepu's neurologist and cardiologist have decided to let him train with a view to playing the Waratahs next week. Photo / Getty Images

Piri Weepu is back training at the Blues after his stroke and heart operation and is expected to be available to play the Waratahs at Eden Park next week after a recovery that coach John Kirwan has described as "unbelievable".

Weepu worked out alongside his teammates yesterday, several of whom are fit again after injury and will be available to play the Hurricanes in Wellington on Friday.

Keven Mealamu, Patrick Tuipulotu, Peter Saili, Tom Donnelly, Jamison Gibson-Park and Jackson Willison will be cleared providing they come through the next couple of days without further problems. Loose forward Kane Barrett, recovering from concussion, is believed to be still a week away.

None of those players has shown the resilience that halfback Weepu (30) has, though. His stroke, which the club's medical staff believe he had at the start of last month, wasn't diagnosed until after he played three matches - two in South Africa and one at Eden Park.

He was then diagnosed with a hole in his heart for which he had surgery just over a week ago, and now is preparing to play again, a state of affairs which has Kirwan shaking his head.

"It is an unbelievable recovery," Kirwan, said. "It gives the players a lift, but it gives him a lift as well."

Kirwan added: "He's been absolutely fantastic and a joy to have in the team. He contributes as much off the field as he does on it. We have missed his experience at times but he has been working hard with Bryn [Hall] and now Jamison."

Weepu's neurologist and cardiologist made the decision to let him train with a view to playing a week on Friday. A Blues statement yesterday said he had made a full recovery.

The news is said to be not as good for first-five Baden Kerr, who is set to miss the season without playing a match. After cracking a thumb in a pre-season hit-out he broke a couple of fingers in a club game. The Counties Manukau player, a standout in their Ranfurly Shield exploits last year, has had an operation and is understood to face a long lay-off.

Kirwan, who has Simon Hickey and Chris Noakes as his first-five options, with Benji Marshall as a back-up, has big decisions to make this week as to his inside-back combination to face the Hurricanes, a team running into some form, but, like the Blues, cursed by inconsistency.

Hickey was targeted by the Brumbies in the 26-9 loss in Canberra which turned into a painful learning experience for the 20-year-old. The Blues' bye has given him time to think things through but Kirwan could go for the more experienced Noakes to lead the team around the Cake Tin.

Kirwan acknowledged the importance of the match with the Hurricanes, who are also coming off a bye and will be preparing for their first match since being told coach Mark Hammett will leave at the year's end.

"We know what we're going to get - they will throw everything at us," Kirwan said. "It's a big challenge for both franchises."

- APNZ

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