BLUES coach Pat Lam admits it will be a challenge but is confident his team will overcome the absence of All Black prop Tony Woodcock for the first four rounds of the Super 15.
Woodcock has asked for a late start to this year's extended competition because of his long list of injuries in 2011 and Lam has reluctantly agreed.
The Blues start their season against the Crusaders at Eden Park on February 24. The final is scheduled for August 4 following a three-week break in June for a three-test series against Ireland.
The absence of loosehead prop Woodcock, a veteran of 81 tests for the All Blacks and 103 matches for the Blues, will leave a large hole in his front row, but Lam said he was comfortable with the arrangement.
"While it's a challenge, I'm happy with it because at the end of the day, if a player's not ready to go, he's not ready to go."
Woodcock, 30, missed much of the Blues' 2011 season because of a mid-foot sprain, injured an elbow and then twice tore a hamstring before the World Cup.
During the tournament he suffered concussion after a nasty collision with Canada lock Adam Kleeberger in the pool game in Wellington but bounced back to be one of the All Blacks' heroes when scoring the only All Black try of the dramatic final.
As well as the Crusaders game, Woodcock will miss the Chiefs match in Hamilton, the Bulls in Pretoria and Stormers in Cape Town.
His first game of the season is likely to be against the Hurricanes at Eden Park on March 23.
"It's obviously tough to lose someone of that quality but it's a good opportunity for the other younger props," said Lam.
While the Blues have an experienced tighthead in Charlie Faumuina, the pickings are slimmer on Woodcock's loosehead side. Lam is without John Afoa, who now plays for Ulster.
The candidates are likely to be Tevita Mailau, who can play both sides of the scrum, or Tom McCartney, who is usually a back-up hooker to Keven Mealamu. Another player Lam is likely to be without for the start of the competition is second five-eighths Ma'a Nonu, a major signing from the Hurricanes along with halfback/first five-eighths Piri Weepu.
"We're preparing as if he won't be there and if he does come back then we'll manage that when he is back in our environment," said Lam, who hinted he could rest Nonu.
"The key thing here is that everyone on the park is on the same page, so there has to be that transition there. That's what you have to weigh up because it's about the team."
Meanwhile, Lam denied the Blues were in contract talks with Argentina and Racing Metro No10 Juan Martin Hernandez, as reported yesterday, but confirmed the player had been considered at the franchise. Lam's other options at pivot are Weepu, Gareth Anscombe and Michael Hobbs.
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