The tight forwards in the New Zealand Super 14 teams have been hit with injury. One of the first names on any team sheet, loosehead prop Tony Woodcock is struggling terribly with form and injury this year. Ali Williams didn’t even last a game before his season was written off with injury. The leading candidates for his replacement, Anthony Boric and Tom Donnelly, are also injured. In fact, all of the Blues’ first choice tight five is now injured except hooker Kevin Mealamu.
Elsewhere, the Chiefs don’t usually supply any All Black tight fives, but even they have lost key props for large parts of the season as well as lock Kevin O’Neil. The Hurricanes’ Jason Eaton is currently injured too. Potential Woodcock replacement Highlander Jamie McIntosh is battling ‘turf toe’, whatever that is, and Tom Donnelly has had ankle surgery. At the Crusaders, seagulling All Black lock Isaac Ross has been relegated to club rugby.
Scraping together a first choice tight five was not too hard, but replacements would be fairly thin on the ground. Easy picks are Neemia Tialata, Ben Franks and Brad Thorn. Picking a loosehead lock to partner Brad Thorn is the biggest challenge. In the end I went for Craig Clarke, the best blend of height, form and experience available, but admittedly it was a bit of a lottery. Kevin Mealamu is showing some of his old form as he tries to hold an experienced forward pack together with the Blues, so he beats Andrew Hore for the moment.
1. Loosehead Prop. Neemia Tialata
2. Hooker. Kevin Mealamu
3. Tighthead Prop. Ben Franks
4. Lock. Brad Thorn.
5. Lock. Craig Clarke.