Injury-ravaged Blues ring the changes

Date published: June 4 2015

Blues coach Sir John Kirwan has named a young team to face the Crusaders in Saturday's Super Rugby battle at Eden Park.

The Blues have 12 players unavailable for selection with injury. 

There are six changes to the starting XV, including a Super Rugby debut for 20-year-old number eight Airi Hunt, while lock Will Lloyd, flanker Joe Edwards and full-back Matt Vaega get their first starts.

Despite missing so many regular starters, Kirwan has also made the bold call to overlook former All Blacks midfielder Francis Saili, utility back Lolagi Visinia and winger Frank Halai. Manawatu's Hamish Northcott starts at outside centre.

"For us, it's important to give some of the youngsters a crack," said Kirwan.

"I've got one eye on the future as well. It's forced on us by injury but it's a good chance for guys like Matty Vaega.

With both regular captain Jerome Kaino and Steven Luatua out with competition-ending injuries and Akira Ioane with the New Zealand U20 side in Italy, Hunt gets his opportunity at the back of the scrum.

"I don't expect him to last the whole game, because it will be a lot faster, a lot more physical that he is used to, but he just needs to get out there and empty the tank," said Kirwan.

"I'm not putting any pressure on them. Obviously our season is finished. They just need to get out there put their hands up."

Blues: 15 Matt Vaega, 14 Ben Lam, 13 Hamish Northcott, 12 George Moala, 11 Melani Nanai, 10 Ihaia West, 9 Jimmy Cowan, 8 Airi Hunt, 7 Brendon O’Connor, 6 Joe Edwards, 5 Josh Bekhuis, 4 Will Lloyd, 3 Ofa Tu’ungafasi, 2 James Parsons (c), 1 Sam Prattley. 
Replacements: 16 Keven Mealamu, 17 Nic Mayhew, 18 Sione Mafileo, 19 Hayden Triggs , 20 Chris Vui, 21 Jamison Gibson-Park, 22 Simon Hickey, 23 Matt McGahan.

Date: Saturday, June 6
Venue: Eden Park, Auckland
Kick-off:  19:35 local (07:35 GMT; 17:35 AEST, 09:35 SAST)
Referee: Chris Pollock
Assistant referees: Ben O'Keeffe, Jamie Nutbrown
TMO: Ben Skeen