The resurgent Blues face the biggest test of their Super Rugby Pacific title credentials in Christchurch on Friday, but they have received a huge boost for the match with a couple of key additions to their 23-man squad.
One is code-hopper Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, who will make his return from injury off the bench. But it’s Ofa Tu’ungafasi’s inclusion which is perhaps more noteworthy given the All Blacks prop had 28 stitches in his head following last Saturday’s win over the Chiefs.
Tu’ungafasi revealed the extent of his wounds in a picture posted to Facebook, but he has since been named to play and will now take to the field against the Crusaders likely with both a bandage and headgear to avoid further damage.
“He initially had eight stitches to close it, and the doctor stitched it the morning after the swelling had gone down,” Blues assistant coach Tom Coventry said of Tu’ungafasi. “He had 28 in there. It was a back sprig that just cut him across …you can see the rail marks.
“He healed pretty well though, and has got a bandage and scrum cap on and was training today.”
The Blues produced a mighty effort defensive effort to defeat the Chiefs and win a sixth straight game, shutting out the Waikato franchise 26-0 in Hamilton.
They also were reduced to 13 men at one stage, and later finished the match having had three players sent to the sin-bin across the 80 minutes.
That clean sheet will give the Blues a huge bout of confidence as they head to a city where they haven’t won in 12 matches for a game many have dubbed a preview of the competition’s final.
Skipper Dalton Papalii’s words to a wounded Tu’ungafasi perhaps best reflecting their defensive commitment.
“I was next to Ofa when the boot came up,” Papalii said. “I tried to pick him up and then saw his face. You’re not injured on defence so I told him to get back in the line.”
The Blues won last year’s truncated Super Rugby Trans-Tasman series but they have not tasted Super Rugby glory proper since their famous 2003 team that featured Carlos Spencer and Rupeni Caucaunibuca.