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'Big news coming': Beauden Barrett returns to Blues training as Otere Black struck by injury ahead of final

By Alex McLeod

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All Blacks star Beauden Barrett has made a surprise return to Blues training as the Auckland-based franchise sweat over the fitness of first-five Otere Black.

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Barrett linked back up with his Blues teammates on Tuesday for the first time since returning to New Zealand from his sabbaitcal in Japan with Top League club Suntory Sungoliath.

It comes as Black was struck down by a training injury that required urgent medical attention on a lower leg issue and has left him in doubt to play in this weekend’s Super Rugby Trans-Tasman final against the Highlanders.

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Sir John Kirwan expresses concerns over All Blacks midfield without Ngani Laumape
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Sir John Kirwan expresses concerns over All Blacks midfield without Ngani Laumape

Despite Black’s injury concerns, which assistant coach Daniel Halangahu described as “cautionary”, it’s unlikely Barrett, who was seen wearing a reserves bib, will suit up to play for the Blues at Eden Park on Saturday.

The 30-year-old said when he announced his deal with Suntory Sungoliath that it was unlikely that he would play for the Blues at all this season.

With Harry Plummer and Stephen Perofeta both on hand to provide back-up if Black is unavailable, Barrett must be at long odds to play this weekend, but that didn’t stop Halangahu from suggesting the 88-test All Black could be involved this weekend.

“Harry Plummer is going really well, so is Stephen Perofeta, and there’s another guy around too … it’s great to have Beaudy [Barett] around. There are a lot of questions going around [about] his availability,” Halangahu told reporters on Tuesday.

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“Just having Beauden around the group with his experience … there are a couple who have played in these Super Rugby finals, so it’s great to have Beauden’s experience and a few others in the group who have been there.”

When whether the two-time World Rugby Player of the Year would only be “around” the playing group this week, Halangahu said: “I don’t want to say too much. We’ll check on Otere, but at the moment having Beauden around is a good thing.”

Blues midfielder Rieko Ioane weighed in on the speculation as he joked to media that there is “big news coming” ahead of this Thursday’s team naming.

However, Highlanders first-five Mitch Hunt and assistant coach Riki Flutey refused to be drawn into speculating if Barrett will return for the Blues this weekend.

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“That’s the first I’ve heard,” Hunt told media of Barrett’s unexpected return to the Blues’ Alexandra Park training base.

“Good on them for getting him out there. It’s the third time playing them this weekend and it’s 1-all. If he’s there, so be it.”

Flutey added: “Beauden Barrett, he’s a world-class player and he’s pretty refreshed, and he’s been carving up over in Japan, so that’ll add a bit of spark to their attack and how they play, if he gets the opportunity to play.”

Black isn’t the only injury concern for the Blues this weekend, as loose forward Tom Robinson are both doubtful to play in this weekend’s final due to a head injury sustained against the Western Force in Auckland last weekend.

Halangahu also confirmed All Blacks prop Ofa Tuungafasi was doubtful to feature this weekend after he sat out Tuesday’s training session as a result of a troublesome knee.

However, the franchise has received a boost as flanker Dalton Papalii has shaken off a hip complaint to take part fully in training.

The Highlanders also have their own injury concerns, as electric wing Jona Nareki and giant lock Pari Pari Parkinson are nursing shoulder injuries sustained in last weekend’s win over the Brumbies in Canberra.

Both the Blues and Highlanders will name their teams for the final on Thursday.

Listen to the latest episode of the Aotearoa Rugby Pod below: 

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'Big news coming': Beauden Barrett returns to Blues training as Otere Black struck by injury ahead of final

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