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Hurricanes confirm Covid in playing squad as TJ Perenara nears injury return

By Alex McLeod
(Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

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The Hurricanes have been dealt a Covid blow as assistant coach Chris Gibbes revealed the virus has made its way into his side’s playing group.

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Speaking to media on Monday, Gibbes didn’t outline which specific players had contracted the virus, or how many players have been infected, but confirmed the virus is evident within his side’s roster.

“What I can confirm to you is that we’ve got Covid in the environment,” he said. “We’re just not at liberty to tell you who and how many players we’ve got, but it’s in the environment at the moment. We’re working really hard at managing it.”

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Confirmation of positive Covid cases in the Hurricanes squad comes after the Wellington-based side were struck down by numerous late unavailabilities on the day of their 21-14 Super Rugby Pacific win over the Highlanders on Saturday.

Starting halfback Jamie Booth forced to withdraw due to a knee niggle, while hooker Asafo Aumua was removed from the starting lineup just hours before kick-off for an undisclosed reason.

Gibbes wouldn’t confirm the reasoning behind Aumua’s withdrawal, but said the Hurricanes are still preparing to face Moana Pasifika in Wellington this weekend.

“Well it could do, I guess, if we don’t have enough people to field a team, but, at the moment, we’re not in the space whatsoever,” Gibbes said when asked if Saturday’s clash against the competition newcomers is in doubt due to his side’s positive Covid cases.

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“We’re preparing to take on these guys this weekend, so that’s what we’re focused on and what we can control, is making sure that we’re healthy and we’re doing everything that we can in that space.

“I guess the thing is it’s inevitable, we kind of knew it was coming, and we’ve prepared really well for it.

“From a whole organisation’s perspective of the team, we’re just needing to make sure that we can get a team out and get our performance going again this weekend.”

The absence of Aumua and Booth two days ago forced the Hurricanes to dig deep into their playing stocks as they handed debuts to fifth-string hooker Raymond Tuputupu and fifth-choice halfback Logan Henry, who scored the decisive try, from the bench.

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Aumua’s omission also saw fourth-choice hooker and Tongan international Siua Maile make his Super Rugby Pacific debut in the starting lineup.

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Being stretched so thinly by a combination of injuries and Covid means Gibbes hasn’t ruled out the prospect of drafting in further players from outside of the squad.

That prospect may become reality if players such as captain Ardie Savea, midfielder Billy Proctor and debutant lock Caleb Delany all pull up lame after finishing last weekend’s match with injury niggles of their own.

“We’ve got the usual dings. They’re pretty physical games, the New Zealand derby games, so you always pick up a few niggles,” Gibbes said.

“Ardie’s obviously taken a bit of a bang on his knee – where that’s at, we’re just not sure. it’s too early to tell – Caleb Delany, Billy Proctor, guys like that, but they’re all not long-term ones, so it’s just a matter of just trying to manage bodies and get through.”

In more positive injury news, Booth’s knee complaint may be offset by potential return of veteran halfback TJ Perenara, who has missed the opening weeks of Super Rugby Pacific after he suffered an MCL injury during pre-season.

As such, the 78-test All Black is yet to feature for the Hurricanes this year, but Gibbes suggested there is a possibility Perenara could be free for selection this weekend.

“He’s done really well, and as you can imagine, TJ’s a professional when it comes to his body, so he does everything he can to look after that, unlike some of the coaching staff, but he’s in really good nick and he’s progressing really well.

“Whether he’s available or not this week is still early doors to tell, but, in terms of his return to play plan, he’s tracking really well.”

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