Planet Rugby

Preview: Blues v Highlanders

04th April 2013 14:39

Share:

Ma a Nonu in spotlight

Faces old mates: Ma'a Nonu

Round Eight begins with an intriguing meeting at Eden Park in Auckland as the Blues host a Highlanders outfit that remains winless in Super Rugby.

If asked which team in New Zealand would be the most likely to possess an 0 from 5 record then the majority would undoubtedly have said the Blues.

However it is in fact the star-studded Highlanders sitting at the foot of the conference, 19 points off the Chiefs and 11 from the fifth-placed Blues.

That places extra emphasis on this being a must-win for the men from Dunedin as they know that lose and they are not just adrift but out of sight in terms of getting off the bottom. For reference, the fourth-place side in New Zealand, the Hurricanes, host the Tahs and are expected to win that one.

A painful 33-34 defeat against the Reds was their most recent loss to the 2013 tally as we wrongly predicted that was to finally be the end of their rot.

Now, is this Friday going to see us plump for the Highlanders once again? Well they don't have a better time to face the Blues if we are to look at form. The Blues have lost three on the bounce as their early-season victories have been dampened by recent defeats to the Bulls, Waratahs and reigning champion Chiefs.

Sir John Kirwan is boosted by the return of Keven Mealamu to his matchday squad - after an extended break - in a side that shows two changes. Tasman loosehead Tim Perry will start in place of Tom McCartney, while Jackson Willison replaces Francis Saili at inside centre.

The latter move is a wise decision by Kirwan as despite Saili's obvious talent, he needs to be managed during his early career. In Willison they have an impressive replacement.

The Highlanders meanwhile have gone into the market to bring in former Crusaders number eight Mose Tuiali'i. Tuiali'i's arrival from Japan cushions the continued absence of Nasi Manu as Elliot Dixon this week moves on to the bench. They remain without one of their danger men, Kade Poki, due to injury so Buxton Popoali'i continues at right wing.

It promises to be an open spectacle at Eden Park so we expect to see plenty of running opportunities for Rene Ranger, Hosea Gear, Charles Piutau and Ben Smith. Picking a winner though is a tough call as both sides will be hoping to stop their respective poor runs of form.

Unfortunately for Highlanders fans, it could well be another close game to test the nerves.

Prediction: We go for the Blues by 1-5 points!

The teams:

Blues: 15 Charles Piutau, 14 Frank Halai, 13 Rene Ranger, 12 Jackson Willison, 11 George Moala, 10 Chris Noakes, 9 Piri Weepu, 8 Peter Saili, 7 Luke Braid, 6 Steven Luatua, 5 Ali Williams (c), 4 Culum Retallick, 3 Angus Ta'avao, 2 James Parsons, 1 Tim Perry.
Replacements: 16 Keven Mealamu, 17 Ofa Tu'ungafasi, 18 Anthony Boric, 19 Brendon O'Connor, 20 Jamison Gibson-Park, 21 Baden Kerr, 22 Francis Saili.

Highlanders: 15 Ben Smith, 14 Buxton Popoalii, 13 Jason Emery, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Hosea Gear, 10 Colin Slade, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Mose Tuiali'i, 7 John Hardie, 6 Jarrad Hoeata, 5 Josh Bekhuis, 4 Brad Thorn, 3 Chris King, 2 Andrew Hore (c), 1 Jamie Mackintosh.
Replacements: 16 Liam Coltman, 17 Ma'afu Fia, 18 TJ Ioane, 19 Elliot Dixon, 20 Fumiaki Tanaka, 21 Lima Sopoaga, 22 Phil Burleigh.

Date: Friday, April 5
Venue: Eden Park, Auckland
Kick-off: 19:35 (07:35 BST, 06:35 GMT)
Referee: Steve Walsh (Australia)
Assistant referees: Jonathon White (New Zealand), Sheldon Eden-Whaitiri (New Zealand)
Television match official: Ben Skeen (New Zealand)

  • Super Rugby Fixtures
Forthcoming Fixtures
FixtureDetails
All times are local
Super Rugby
Saturday , April 19
Chiefs vs CrusadersChiefs vs Crusaders Preview
Waratahs vs BullsWaratahs vs Bulls Preview
Sharks vs CheetahsSharks vs Cheetahs Preview
Stormers vs LionsStormers vs Lions Preview
Friday , April 25
Blues vs Waratahs17:35
Brumbies vs Chiefs17:40
Sharks vs Highlanders19:10
Saturday , April 26
Hurricanes vs Reds19:35
Western Force vs Bulls17:40
Cheetahs vs Stormers17:05
More Super Rugby fixtures
  • Super Rugby Results
Recent Results
FixtureDetails
All times are local
Super Rugby
Friday , April 18
Hurricanes 39 - 20 BluesHurricanes vs Blues Report
Melbourne Rebels 22 - 16 Western Force
Saturday , April 12
Chiefs 22 - 16 Melbourne RebelsChiefs vs Melbourne Rebels Report
Western Force 28 - 16 WaratahsWestern Force vs Waratahs Report
Cheetahs 31 - 52 CrusadersCheetahs vs Crusaders Report
Lions 12 - 25 SharksLions vs Sharks Report
Friday , April 11
Highlanders 27 - 20 BullsHighlanders vs Bulls Report
Reds 20 - 23 BrumbiesReds vs Brumbies Report
Saturday , April 5
Hurricanes 25 - 20 BullsHurricanes vs Bulls Report
Reds 29 - 32 Western ForceReds vs Western Force Report
More Super Rugby results
  • Super Rugby Table
Super Rugby Table
PosTeamPPts
1Sharks727
2Brumbies825
3Chiefs724
4Western Force823
5Hurricanes821
6Waratahs720
7Highlanders719
8Crusaders718
9Bulls818
10Lions816
11Blues816
12Reds816
13Melbourne Rebels816
14Cheetahs89
15Stormers76
Australian Conference
Super Rugby Table
PosTeamPPts
1Brumbies825
2Western Force823
3Waratahs720
4Reds816
5Melbourne Rebels816
New Zealand Conference
Super Rugby Table
PosTeamPPts
1Chiefs724
2Hurricanes821
3Crusaders718
4Blues816
5Highlanders615
South African Conference
Super Rugby Table
PosTeamPPts
1Sharks727
2Bulls717
3Lions816
4Cheetahs89
5Stormers66