Super Rugby Trans-Tasman: Door slams shut on Beauden Barrett return, despite Blues injury fears

If you were writing a script for the Super Rugby Trans-Tasman final, this plot twist could not be more tantalising.

As the Blues prepare for their first final in 18 years against the Highlanders, All Blacks star Bauden Barrett returns from his Japan sabbatical on the same day starting first-five Otere Black limps off the training paddock.

Coincidence? Depends who you ask...

Last week, assistant coach Tom Coventry insisted Barrett, who had just finished his 14-day quarantine, wouldn't be considered for selection, unless there was an injury within the squad.

On Tuesday, the 30-year-old was a full participant at a training session, where Black was forced to leave halfway through, with a knock to his lower leg.

Barrett hasn't featured for the Blues during their 2021 Super Rugby campaigns, after leaving to take up a short-term deal with Japanese Top League side Suntory Sun Goliath.

Blues coaches have remained tight-lipped on Barrett's prospects of playing at Eden Park this weekend and the two-time World Cup winner would seem a natural replacement for Black.

But NZ Rugby has poured cold water on that possibility, confirming Barrett’s season-long absence has made him ineligible for a late call-up.

That didn't stop the Blues staff from teasing that prospect.

"I don't want to say too much," says assistant coach Daniel Halangahu. "We'll check on Otere, but at the moment, having Beauden around is a good thing - we'll give you that."

Halangahu dismisses Black's departure from training as purely "precautionary" and he is expected back with the group for Thursday's session, although Barrett's mere presence alone adds plenty of value in such a critical week.

"There's a lot of questions going around about his availability, but it's just great having someone with his experience around the group right now," says Halangahu, who also identified Stephen Perofeta as a potential fill-in, if required.

Also notably absent at training, due to concussion protocols, was breakout flanker Tom Robinson, who left the field in the early stages of the Blues' 31-21 win over Western Force on Saturday.

Halangahu says doctors have only given the forward - who has captained the Blues on occasion this season - a 50-50 chance of playing in the final. 

Robinson’s physical presence would be keenly missed against a rugged Highlanders pack and the Blues are understandably crossing their fingers that he's cleared to take the park this weekend.. 

"The fact that he's not training is concerning for us, but at the same time, we're hoping he'll make it in time for kickoff," says Halangahu.

Also in doubt is All Blacks prop Ofa Tuungafasi, who took no part against the Force or training, and is a "little bit further back", according to Halangahu.

"If we need him, he'll play. He's probably more of a 30-70 to play. 

Join us at 7pm Saturday, for live updates of the Super Rugby Trans-Tasman final between the Blues and the Highlanders