Francis to add voice to Blues’ backline

Date published: March 31 2016

England-born Piers Francis will make his Super Rugby debut against the Jaguares as the Blues seek to improve their backline communication.

The Counties Manukau five-eighth will wear the No.12 jersey, outside Ihaia West, against the Argentines on Auckland's North Shore on Saturday night.

His inclusion is one of four changes that coach Tana Umaga has made to his starting 15.

"We're looking for some of the skills he has in terms of communication and second pivot, and to give some assistance to Ihaia in there," Umaga said.

Francis, 25, suffered a foot injury in the pre-season win over the Melbourne Rebels and has worked his way back through club rugby.

The former Saracens, Edinburgh and Doncaster player comes in for the hard-running George Moala, who will provide impact off the bench.

Also in the side after missing the 25-25 draw to the Queensland is former All Black Rene Ranger, who has been picked at outside centre in place of Japan representative Male Sa'u.

Ranger came into the Super Rugby season after a long lay-off because of neck surgery and Umaga said he was still working his way back.

"There is still a lot of rehab he has to do, but we do need some of the flair he brings to the game," Umaga said.

The two other changes are in the forwards.

Joe Edwards comes in at blindside flanker for injured skipper Jerome Kaino, and loosehead prop Nic Mayhew is promoted off the bench in a swap with Ofa Tu'ungafasi.

With Kaino still out with a shoulder problem, hooker James Parson will assume the captaincy duties against the Jaguares.

The Blues, who are coming off a bye, go into the match with a win, a loss and a draw to be eighth in the Australasian group while the Jaguares' first season has begun with a win and three losses.

Blues: Lolagi Visinia, Rieko Ioane, Rene Ranger, Piers Francis, Tevita Li, Ihaia West, Bryn Hall, Steven Luatua, Blake Gibson, Joe Edwards, Josh Bekhuis, Patrick Tuipulotu, Charlie Faumuina, James Parson (capt), Nic Mayhew. Reserves: Quentin MacDonald, Sam Prattley, Ofa Tu'ungafasi, Hoani Matenga, Akira Ioane, Billy Guyton, Matt McGahan, George Moala.