Blues head coach Sir John Kirwan has made four changes to his starting XV for Friday's ANZAC day clash with the Waratahs.
Blues head coach Sir John Kirwan has made four changes to his starting XV for Friday's ANZAC day clash with the Waratahs at Eden Park.
In the only change to the forward pack, Peter Saili makes his first start since round six at number eight in place of Steven Luatua as Kirwan looks to inject more physicality into the Blues' game.
“We wanted to pick a pack that was really physical,” said Kirwan.
“The Waratahs are a big, strong pack so we've gone with Pete and he's really physical so Steven will come off the bench later in the game and bring his spark.”
After Chris Noakes was ruled out of Friday's clash earlier in the week following a concussion he sustained against the Hurricanes, Simon Hickey will start at fly-half.
Ma'a Nonu has bounced back from a tight calf to start at inside centre ahead of Jackson Willison and Kirwan said it was great to welcome back his backline enforcer.
“He's been fantastic for us so far, he's had a little bit of a bad run with his first injury and getting straight back into it he just tightened up a bit last week,” he said.
“He's brought a lot of edge to us and I thought he played really well against the Highlanders and I'm really looking forward to him getting us over the advantage line and doing what Ma'a does best on Friday night.”
Frank Halai has also been reinstated to the starting XV ahead of George Moala after he produced strong cameo off the bench last week.
“George has been playing a heck of a lot and he's been playing very well,” Kirwan said.
“We've asked him to play centre, left and right wing and I think he needs a break so after playing well off the bench last week we want to give Frank an opportunity to step up.”
Piri Weepu has been cleared to play and has been named on the bench alongside Ihaia West who is poised to make his Super Rugby debut after joining the franchise as a replacement player for the injured Baden Kerr just two weeks ago.
“Bryn has been playing really well so it will be great to have Piri's experience on the bench and with Simon outside him and Ihaia who are both very young men, Piri's experience will be really important so it's great he's been cleared to play,” Kirwan said.
On the importance of Friday's match against the Waratahs, Kirwan said:
“I don't need to hide the fact how important this match is for the franchise, for the team and for our fans. We said last week that against the Hurricanes if we lost away from home then we were going to be under pressure and we're under pressure – we've just got to get out there and go hard. It's going to be a really physical game, I don't know how many Wallabies they've got, I stopped counting so it's going to be a great match up.”
Friday's curtain raiser will celebrate 100 years of club rugby at Eden Park and two of the city's oldest clubs will take the field to commemorate the occasion.
Ponsonby is celebrating its 140th anniversary this year and has arguably one of the most impressive records in Auckland, having won 45 Gallaher Shield titles and producing dozens of All Blacks.
North Shore was founded in 1873 and is the oldest club in North Harbour. The club won the Harbour championship in 2011, their fourth title, adding to a Gallaher Shield victory when they were still part of the Auckland Rugby Union.
The match will see both teams wear traditional club uniforms.
Replacements: 16 James Parsons, 17 Sam Prattley, 18 Angus Ta'avao, 19 Hayden Triggs, 20 Piri Weepu, 21 Steven Luatua, 22 Ihaia West, 23 Pita Ahki
Date: Friday, April 25
Venue: Eden Park, Auckland
Kick-off: 17.35 (05.35 GMT)
Referee: Chris Pollock (New Zealand)