Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

Rugby: Melani Nanai hand injury another blow to Blues

Melani Nanai of the Blues makes a break against the Hurricanes. Photo / Getty
Melani Nanai of the Blues makes a break against the Hurricanes. Photo / Getty

The Blues' disappointment in losing to the Hurricanes despite a sparkling first-half performance could be deepened by a hand injury to fullback Melani Nanai, the wing-turned fullback who looked very much at home there on the Westpac Stadium pitch.

And he wasn't the only one. When Tana Umaga and his assistants come to review their team's 37-27 defeat, they will probably see that the vast majority of Nanai's teammates did, from new All Black prop Ofa Tu'ungafasi, to hooker James Parsons, lock Patrick Tuipulotu, and the outstanding loose forward trio of Kara Pryor, Jerome Kaino and Steven Luatua.

The midfield of Piers Francis and Male Sa'u also performed spectacularly, adding direction to first-five Ihaia West, who also had his moments, and in wings Matt Duffie and Tevita Li, the Blues had a pair who probably outshone All Blacks opposites Julian Savea and Cory Jane.

The Hurricanes, by comparison, looked like they had been caught in an ambush before they gained an upper hand in the final quarter.

They were also helped by a controversial first-half try to hooker Dane Coles, awarded by the television match official despite the ball going forward off the hand of one of his teammates.

But the Blues, leading 24-17 at halftime thanks to a stunning Pryor try, plus two from Kaino, lacked direction once Francis went off with a biceps injury, along with Sa'u, the Japan international who left the field with a rib cartilage problem. A lost Blues' lineout on halfway late in the match handed the Hurricanes an opportunity and they took it via Vaea Fifita's second try, assisted by replacement Matt McGahan's missed tackle.

Nanai's hand injury, for which he was scheduled to have a scan on, also robbed the Blues of one of their best attacking talents, and of the three injured players, he looks the worst, according to assistant coach Alistair Rogers.

So, disappointment again for the Blues, who probably deserved to win their previous match, against the Crusaders at Eden Park before the June break. On that occasion their work in the final quarter again let them down, but their 60-minute performance in Wellington on Saturday was of the highest calibre.

Now officially out of the playoffs, the Blues won't play another away game this season, but this was probably their best on the road since their victory over the Hurricanes in Sir John Kirwan's first match in charge in 2013.

And of them all, it was the hard-charging return to form of loose forward Luatua which might have been the most pleasing. The former All Black was at his best alongside Pryor and Kaino, a partnership which probably got the better of Victor Vito, Ardie Savea and Brad Shields.

Rogers said: "They really took that challenge on, as obviously the Hurricanes have a pretty good loose trio themselves."

- NZ Herald

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