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Blues issue update on Beauden Barrett's concussion and All Blacks availability

By Alex McLeod
(Photos by Getty Images)

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The Blues will have their full complement of All Blacks to pick from when they open the inaugural season of Super Rugby Pacific next month.

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Blues head coach Leon MacDonald confirmed to media on Tuesday that the Auckland-based franchise will have all their All Blacks available for selection in the new competition’s opening match of round one.

That should have Moana Pasifika, one of two new expansions franchises, on edge ahead of their Super Rugby debut against their cross-town rivals at Mt Smart Stadium on February 18 given the talent the Blues have at their disposal.

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All up, the Blues have nine players – Beauden Barrett, Rieko Ioane, Akira Ioane, Dalton Papalii, Nepo Laulala, Ofa Tuungafasi, Hoskins Sotutu, Karl Tu’inukuafe and Finlay Christie –  who featured for the All Blacks last year.

A further three players – Caleb Clarke, Luke Romano and Alex Hodgman – are also capped by the All Blacks, while ex-NRL star Roger Tuivasa-Sheck is primed to be unleashed by the Blues as soon as the season gets underway.

That’s not even taking into account the fringe All Blacks and long-term prospects, such as Tom Robinson and Anton Segner, on deck at the Blues, making the Super Rugby Trans-Tasman champions a fearsome outfit when at full-strength.

In their first-ever Super Rugby fixture, Moana Pasifika are set to be the first side to feel the wrath of the star-studded Blues this season as MacDonald revealed all of last year’s All Blacks will be free to play from the get-go.

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“Their first game will be round one, other than Hoskins, who’s available for the last pre-season [against the Chiefs in Te Puke on February 11],” MacDonald said before adding that the fitness of his side’s All Blacks will be monitored throughout pre-season.

“[Who plays in round one depends] on their previous load from last year and little niggles or injuries or just where they’re at in their conditioning.

“If they miss the jump a little bit, we might take a little bit more time to get them up to speed. If they’re raring to go, then we’ll be considering them for round one.”

As has been the case in recent seasons, those who played for the All Blacks the year beforehand have been granted extensive leave from Super Rugby pre-season training, with Kiwi internationals not expected to return until early February.

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However, numerous All Blacks were sighted at Blues training on Tuesday as MacDonald outlined they had been invited to practice with their teammates to help keep themselves in shape without feeling isolated by training on their own.

“They’re back via invite. It’s not compulsory by any means,” MacDonald said.

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“It’s just starting to feel like rugby’s around the corner and they’re probably sick of running by themselves and missing the boys and want to get the ball in their hands, so the message is they’re always welcome to our trainings and they can do as much or little as they want.

“They can train off to the side, but we love having them around. They’re part of the team and part of our culture as well, so having them here’s fantastic.”

One player who was noticeably absent, though, was star playmaker Beauden Barrett, who returns to the Blues in 2022 after taking last season off to join Japanese club Suntory Sungoliath on a season-long sabbatical.

Barrett was last week reported to still be suffering from concussion symptoms after sustaining a head knock while playing for the All Blacks in their 29-20 defeat to Ireland during last November’s Autumn Nations Series.

The two-time World Rugby Player of the Year was subsequently ruled out from New Zealand’s season-ending loss to France the following week, and said last week that he is “still getting over a few ongoing issues” from his concussion.

Barrett’s comments did little to dismay MacDonald, though, as he said he expects the All Blacks centurion to return to the franchise in the coming weeks.

“Beauden, he’s not here with us at the moment. He’s taking a bit of extra time, and I know he’s fit, he’s been looking after his body, and it was a busy year for him last year, and we’ll see him starting to come through the gates at some point soon, I think.”

In saying that, MacDonald – who is well-aware of the pitfalls of concussions from his own playing career – was reluctant to put a timeframe on Barrett’s playing return, even though he is pencilled in to be free for selection against Moana Pasifika.

“It’s hard to be concrete around anything with concussions, but everything’s trending the right way. He’s getting better, which is the main thing,” MacDonald said.

“He’s really positive in his own mind, and that’s another key point, so it’s all looking really positive, but, like I said, it’s such a hard thing to predict sometimes, so we don’t want to get hung up on those sort of things.”

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