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McGrath gets chance as Blues injuries mount

Fotopress

Thursday, May 5, 2005    NZPA    Fotopress

That arm's-length viewing gives way to expedience on Friday when he is pitched into the Blues for a match they have to win against the Hurricanes to stay in the race for the playoffs.

McGrath's selection is the result of another horror injury run for the Blues and the experience he had in three matches for the side last season.

His elevation came when the Blues lost Steve Devine and Ben Meyer after their latest match with the Bulls while another squad halfback David Gibson is unavailable because of a long-term neck problem.

The Blues were optimistic Devine would recover from his shoulder damage but it was evident today he was struggling.

"Steve went backwards rather than forwards so we had to rethink that," coach Peter Sloane said.

"We were looking at a bench player but now we had to look at someone to start.

"At the back of our minds we also had to think about next week (the Waratahs) as well."

The 31-year-old McGrath is a strongly built halfback, good enough to earn his blazer for Auckland last season before transferring to North Harbour where he captains the Northcote club side.

McGrath captained Waitemata when they won the Gallaher Shield in 2003 and also toured Canada last year with New Zealand Maori.

That sort of experience and his strong pass and defence, persuaded the Blues selectors to promote him ahead of another squad replacement, Northland halfback John Senio.

The Blues had a lighter training than they expected today for Friday's game, one which doubles as Hurricanes captain Tana Umaga's 100th Rebel Sport Super 12 game.

"We were not quite as flash as we hoped, we could not do as much as we wanted so it became a lot more of an organisational session," Sloane said.

"These injuries have been occupying most of our time and forced us to throw ideas around. But it is a matter of getting ourselves up in the short turnaround because we know what the result means."

Victory would continue an unbeaten Super 12 record against the Hurricanes and send the Blues to Sydney next week where a win against the Waratahs should ensure them a semifinal berth.

The Hurricanes have exchanged Chris Masoe for Ben Herring to combat the speed of Blues openside flanker Daniel Braid. Neemia Tialata has switched to loosehead prop to replace the injured Joe McDonnell and Tim Fairbrother comes in on the tighthead.

Inspection of the wounded Blues will continue tomorrow with clearances needed for centre Ben Atiga, first five-eighth Tasesa Lavea and lock Greg Rawlinson (who is expected to partner the reinstated Ali Williams).

Lavea and Rawlinson have been troubled with knee injuries and Atiga retired from the Stormers game with a shoulder problem.