Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

Rugby: Latimer on brink of Blues return

Tanerau Latimer. Photo / John Borren.
Tanerau Latimer. Photo / John Borren.

Thursday is looming as a crucial date for loose forward Tanerau Latimer and the Blues.

If Latimer comes through a full training session without a reaction from his left calf, he could wear the blue strip for the first time, an especially welcome return given Blake Gibson's thumb injury which will almost certainly rule him out of Saturday's match against the Sharks at Eden Park.

It has been a long time coming for Latimer, the 29-year-old who came to the Blues after a frustrating stint at Japanese club Toshiba. The prospect of a fresh start, after eight years at the Chiefs and before that a season at the Crusaders, was a welcome one but he arrived in Auckland with a torn calf following a training session with Liam Messam, a former teammate at Toshiba and the Chiefs.

Latimer would represent a like-for-like swap for the 20-year-old Gibson, outstanding for the Blues this season and with the second best tackle count in the competition, but coach Tana Umaga will have to wait for a positive medical report on the New Zealand Maori player and also weigh up the risks of sending out a man who hasn't played any rugby in a long time.

"I'm pretty excited. It's been a long two months," Latimer said.

Despite spending all of pre-season and the first seven rounds on the sidelines, Latimer said, rather, than being frustrating, his time at the Blues had been refreshing.

"From where I came from in Japan - that was frustrating. But to come back here and give some input and help the team, that has been really refreshing," he said.

"The Japanese see a rugby game differently to Kiwis. The other reason was game time, that's where the frustration built up."

With fellow New Zealand loose forwards Messam and Michael Leitch - plus back Stephen Bates - also at Toshiba, Latimer's game time was limited. Japanese rules dictate that teams can select only three foreign players in a match day squad.

He added of the pleasure at being able to contribute to a new team environment, to say his piece and be heard: "In Japan you might say it but they won't take it on board. You find those things out."

Coach Umaga said Latimer's experience and input had been valuable, including: "His singlemindedness about how he does things. He's very forthright, which is what we need, in terms of his leadership but also the way he plays. The only issue has been trying to get him back on the field. We know that he's someone who looks after himself really well."

Latimer is involved in the defence group at the Blues, just as he was at the Chiefs during his time there which including winning two titles for Dave Rennie's men.

And while he has many happy memories from his time in Hamilton, there are no split loyalties.

"They [Chiefs] are running hot, I would have loved to have seen the boys beat them in the weekend, but it wasn't to be. It was close. I know how hard the Chiefs train and that they set high standards for themselves and this is the fruits of their labour, as we've seen so far this season."

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