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The Blues youngster tipped to replace the injured Roger Tuivasa-Sheck

By Alex McLeod
Photo: Brett Phibbs / www.photosport.nz

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A pair of former Blues players have tipped a promising youngster to fill the void left by Roger Tuivasa-Sheck after it was revealed the star recruit left last week’s match against the Chiefs with an injury.

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Tuivasa-Sheck was subbed at half-time of his side’s drama-filled 24-22 Super Rugby Pacific win at Eden Park in Auckland last weekend after he sustained what head coach Leon MacDonald described as a “serious” shoulder injury.

“There’s a couple of injury worries with Harry [Plummer] and Roger both shoulders, so that’s a bit tough,” MacDonald said in the immediate aftermath of his side’s win. “They look relatively sore and serious so fingers crossed they’re not too bad.”

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The loss of Tuivasa-Sheck will be a particular blow for the Blues given the way in which the former NRL star had taken to rugby union since switching codes midway through last year.

However, the 28-year-old may be set for a prolonged sideline spell after only two Super Rugby Pacific appearances, although just how long the 2018 Dally M Medallist will be out for is, at this stage, unclear.

Should Tuivasa-Sheck remain out of action for a lengthy period of time, the Blues might turn to midfielder Tanielu Tele’a as his replacement at second-five.

That’s according to former Blues captain James Parsons, as well as ex-Blues halfback and current Crusaders star Bryn Hall, both of whom identified Tele’a as the likeliest candidate to fill Tuivasa-Sheck’s boots in the No 12 jersey.

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Speaking on the Aotearoa Rugby Pod, Parsons suggested MacDonald could opt for either Tele’a or young fullback Zarn Sullivan, who he said is capable of playing in multiple positions across the backline.

The former two-test All Blacks hooker tipped Tele’a as the frontrunner to replace Tuivasa-Sheck, though, due to his ball-carrying prowess and defensive strength.

“I think it poses some questions of who’s going to play in that midfield, obviously, but we’ve said in the past that it’s the use of your squad that’ll get you to the title, so I don’t think there’s alarm bells going off,” Parsons, a Blues centurion, told the Aotearoa Rugby Pod of Tuivasa-Sheck’s injury.

“They’ve got plenty of options as well. [Bryce] Heem’s played a lot at centre, but I don’t know if you want to move Rieko [Ioane].

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“I think Rieko’s in a really good spot at the moment, so he [Heem] could potentially come on the bench, and then, as I mentioned before, Zarn Sullivan at 12, he’s a big body, courageous young man, so, defensively, he’ll be able to work well there.

“But, I’d say they’ll go with Tanielu Tele’a. Big, strong carrier, will get you across the advantage line, and a solid defender, and he’s like-for-like with Roger, and I think they’ll want to keep that style.”

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Hall agreed with his former teammate as he highlighted the success Tele’a has enjoyed as a second-five while playing for Auckland at provincial level.

“He’s had success at Mitre 10 Cup and NPC with Auckland, and then, even a couple of years ago, he actually ended up playing a lot of minutes when he was playing in that 12 role as well,” Hall told the Aotearoa Rugby Pod.

Hall added that, should they opt for Tele’a at second-five, it is important that the Blues keep Ioane as the 23-year-old’s midfield partner to help assist with the youngster’s transition into the starting lineup.

Similarly, the Maori All Blacks veteran illustrated the importance of having a strong communicator at fullback to help guide Tele’a, whose injuries have limited him to only 13 appearances for the Blues since his debut in 2019, around the park.

“I think it’s really important for Rieko to stay in that 13 [jersey] and being able to help him out a little bit more,” Hall said.

“Then, with the likes of Stephen Perofeta or Sullivan or whoever starts at the back, being able to give those communication skills into that 12, because we’ve talked about it a lot – yes, a 12 is obviously a really important position, but there’s a lot of moving cogs for that to be able to give him the information to make his job a lot easier so he can just concentrate on one thing at a time.”

Parsons, meanwhile, made note that the injury sustained by Plummer should pave the way for a return to the starting side for All Blacks star Beauden Barrett.

The two-time World Rugby Player of the Year made his first appearance of the year from the bench against the Chiefs after being sidelined since November due to a concussion a suffered while playing for the All Blacks against Ireland.

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With Plummer – who had started at first-five in the Blues’ first two matches of the season – out for the foreseeable future, Parsons said this week’s match against the Highlanders in Albany presents a chance for Barrett to slot back into the No 10 jersey.

“I thought he handled himself well, got himself in the right positions,” Parsons said of Barrett’s return from injury against the Chiefs.

“There’ll be some things like, again, high standards he won’t be happy with, but I think, for the most part, coming back from the injury, he’s had a limited sort of lead-in because of that progression when you go through the concussion protocols.

“It is quite a slow, drawn out process when you’ve got symptoms for that long. I think he’ll be happy with that, and with Harry Plummer sort of getting injured, it does open up an opportunity for him to jump straight back in there and take the reins.”

Parsons also said that, with their versatility across the backline, Sullivan and Heem loom as useful bench options for the Blues.

“I think that Sullivan and Heem at 22 and 23, that gives you a lot of coverage of positions,” he said.

“That gives you that balance of squad really nicely, so, like I say, obviously you don’t want two guys that are playing well [to] go down, but you need a deep squad, and this is a perfect opportunity to test that out.”

The Blues team to face the Highlanders at North Harbour Stadium on Friday will be announced on Wednesday.

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