Parsons: ‘Highlanders are favourites’

Date published: February 25 2016

Stand-in skipper James Parsons senses a positive vibe within the Blues, but says the Auckland-based side go in as underdogs for their Super Rugby season opener against the Highlanders.

Parsons has taken over as captain for the Eden Park encounter on Friday night after All Blacks loose forward Jerome Kaino copped a one-week ban for his punch against the Chiefs last week.

Despite Kaino's red card, the Blues beat their neighbours to finish their pre-season program with a 100 per cent record of three wins under new coach Tana Umaga.

"Of course, there is (a good buzz), but pre-season is pre-season and it's well documented you get no points for that," Parsons said.

He is expecting plenty of energy and passion from the Highlanders, whose coach, Jamie Joseph, will leave at the end of the season to take over the Japan job.

"They're the defending champions and they're certainly the favourites," he said.

"We're just going to throw our plays out there, stick to the plan and hopefully come through at the end."

With the Blues missing the play-offs in each of the past four seasons and finishing second bottom last year, Parsons is loathe to make any predictions about their prospects for 2016.

"We're not going to make promises – it's about actions," he said.

Parsons, 29, will be part of a new look front-row that includes props Ofa Tu'ungafasi and Sione Mafileo.

Mafileo get his first start after two appearances off the bench last year, with All Black Charlie Faumuina included in the reserves as he is eased back after the World Cup.

Parsons' captaincy experience includes leading the Blues during France's tour of New Zealand three years ago.

The Blues No.2 jersey was for so long the property of the now-retired Keven Mealamu, and Parsons said he learnt a lot from the 132-Test veteran, who hung up his boots after the World Cup final.

"We still keep in touch and we're good mates," Parsons said.

"If I have something I want to talk about, he's always there to lend a kind ear."