Despite his wish to play first five-eighth for the Hurricanes, new All Black Luke McAlister has been earmarked for a leading midfield role with the Blues in next year’s Rebel Sport Super 12 rugby competition.
Blues coach Peter Sloane said he had explained to McAlister that he was a very important component in the squad and would get some time at first five-eighth.
On form, he will be the Blues’ premier goalkicker and, given the player mix, was best suited in midfield.
That was one of the rare selection riddles Sloane, his technical assistant David Nucifora and back coach Joe Schmidt had to address before their 28-strong squad was announced yesterday.
The coaches convinced the New Zealand Rugby Union (NZRU) they needed first five-eighth Carlos Spencer and Tasesa Lavea as well.
The departure of midfielder Rico Gear from the franchise helped their argument about retaining Spencer, Lavea and McAlister.
“We put our case and thankfully we got there in the end,” Sloane said.
“We had no pressure on us about Luke.”
Spencer would have his knee injury assessed next week. It was likely he would avoid surgery but not resume running until after Christmas.
Perhaps the unluckiest player was lock Bryce Williams and Sloane said once he missed the Blues list, the national panel asked every franchise to readdress their locking choices.
The Blues were able to protect 25 players because flanker Justin Collins was given a medical exemption, following heart surgery, to remain in Auckland.
The Blues had lost nine players out of the franchise – Nick Evans, Rico Gear, Craig Newby, Joe Ward, Brent Ward, Mose Tuiali’i, Sione Lauaki, Tony Koonwaiyou and Anthony Tuitavake – and that did not put the Blues under so much pressure in the draft, Sloane said.
Tighthead prop Taufa’ao Filise from Bay of Plenty, Otago openside flanker Tom Harding and North Harbour winger Rudi Wulf filled the draft vacancies.
Major defections from this season are the transferring Gear, Fijian winger Rupeni Caucaunibuca and prop Kees Meeuws who have both taken up contracts in France.
Halfback Steve Devine (knee) and hooker Derren Witcombe (shoulder) have been cleared after their surgery. Devine has been running for a month while Witcombe still needs further rehabilitation.
Both Filise and Nacewa were ineligible for the All Blacks but the NZRU had agreed, in consultation with all the franchises, that there were no better replacements.
The Crusaders and Blues would be the franchises most affected by All Blacks’ late start to pre-season training but Sloane said he had learned how to deal with that situation more this year.
The Blues will assemble on November 22, have a break for Christmas and regroup on January 11 when they would announce their captain.
Rush is likely to be reappointed and should lead the side in trial games against the Hurricanes at Napier and the New South Wales Waratahs in Whangarei in the opening weeks of February.