Blues first-five Stephen Perofeta is likely to miss his team's first match of the new Super Rugby season due to a broken bone in his hand.

Perofeta suffered the injury during his team's 45-19 pre-season victory over the Chiefs at Te Kuiti last Friday, a blow given his commanding form in the match as a replacement and the fact that in Otere Black's injury-enforced absence Perofeta is seen as the Blues' first-choice No10.

In what is a challenging start to the season, the Blues face the Highlanders in Dunedin in their first match on February 23 before they host the Chiefs at Eden Park a week later.

Next is a long-haul trip to South Africa to play the Lions and Stormers.


Fortunately for the Blues and their coach Tana Umaga, they possess an excellent alternative in Bryn Gatland, who, like Perofeta, shot to prominence during last winter's tour of New Zealand by the British and Irish Lions.

Despite the pressure of playing against the famous tourists, coached by his father Warren, Gatland junior shone while representing the provincial Barbarians in Whangarei and will relish the opportunity to navigate the Blues in their next pre-season match against the Hurricanes in Warkworth a week on Thursday. Daniel Kirkpatrick is the Blues' other option.

This weekend the Blues, along with Australasia's other Super Rugby sides and several overseas teams, play in the Brisbane Global Rugby 10s tournament.

Umaga showed his faith in Perofeta last June when selecting him to start against the British and Irish Lions at Eden Park and the 20-year-old didn't disappoint, sending Rieko Ioane away down the left wing for a try inside the first seven minutes and impressing hugely with his composure in a thrilling victory.

The franchise's struggle to find a world class replacement for Carlos Spencer, now 42, who left in 2005 and in an interesting twist will represent the Blues as a wildcard player at the Brisbane 10s, has become the stuff of legend.

After years of disappointment and mixed performances from first-fives including league player Benji Marshall and Englishman Piers Francis, the Blues are quietly confident that Perofeta, who has pace, vision and a good passing game, is the man to lead them into the playoffs for the first time since 2011.

The presence of Gatland, only 22 himself and just as ambitious, should help with Perofeta's development as Umaga seeks to make the finals for the first time in the third and final year of his contract.

There have been signs of improvement – the franchise finished ninth last year, two places better than the year before – and Umaga's messages appear to be getting through to his players. Unfortunately for him and the team's long-suffering supporters, an infuriating inconsistency (best displayed by the Blues' thrashing at the hands of the Sunwolves in the first match after their triumph over Gatland's Lions), remains.


A positive start to the season is crucial given the quality of the opposition and South African trip; last year the Blues started with a big away win over the Rebels but then lost to the Chiefs, Highlanders and Crusaders which sent them to the bottom of the New Zealand conference.

In that respect, next week's pre-season match against the Hurricanes is looming as crucial as most All Blacks will be available in both team's final hit-outs.