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)

Forthcoming Fixtures
FixtureDetails
All times are local
European Rugby Champions Cup
Friday , October 24
Munster vs Saracens19:45
Saturday , October 25
Ulster vs Toulon13:00
Scarlets vs Leicester19:45
Bath vs Toulouse15:15
Montpellier vs Glasgow17:15
Northampton vs Ospreys17:15
Sunday , October 26
Clermont Auvergne vs Sale13:00
Castres vs Leinster15:15
Wasps vs Harlequins17:15
Benetton Treviso vs Racing Metro 9217:15
More European Rugby Champions Cup fixtures
European Rugby Challenge Cup
Thursday , October 23
London Welsh vs Bordeaux-Begles19:45
Friday , October 24
La Rochelle vs Bayonne18:30
Grenoble vs London Irish18:30
Newport Gwent D'gons vs Newcastle19:30
Brive vs Zebre19:30
Edinburgh vs LOU Rugby19:45
Saturday , October 25
Bucuresti vs Stade FrancaisTBC
Rovigo vs Cardiff Blues14:00
Exeter vs Connacht15:00
Oyonnax vs Gloucester19:45
More European Rugby Challenge Cup fixtures
Recent Results
FixtureDetails
All times are local
European Rugby Champions Cup
Sunday , October 19
Ospreys 42 - 7 Benetton TrevisoOspreys vs Benetton Treviso Report
Toulouse 30 - 23 MontpellierToulouse vs Montpellier Report
Toulon 28 - 18 ScarletsToulon vs Scarlets Report
Leinster 25 - 20 WaspsLeinster vs Wasps Report
More European Rugby Champions Cup results
European Rugby Challenge Cup
London Irish 70 - 14 RovigoLondon Irish vs Rovigo Report
More European Rugby Challenge Cup results
International Match
Saturday , October 18
Australia 28 - 29 New ZealandAustralia vs New Zealand Report
More International Match results
European Rugby Champions Cup
Sale Sharks 26 - 27 MunsterSale Sharks vs Munster Report
Saracens 30 - 23 Clermont AuvergneSaracens vs Clermont Auvergne Report
Racing Metro 92 20 - 11 NorthamptonRacing Metro 92 vs Northampton Report
Glasgow 37 - 10 BathGlasgow vs Bath Report
Leicester 25 - 18 UlsterLeicester vs Ulster Report
More European Rugby Champions Cup results
European Rugby Challenge Cup
LOU Rugby 28 - 18 London WelshLOU Rugby vs London Welsh Report
Zebre 24 - 33 Oyonnax
Cardiff Blues 37 - 14 Grenoble
Stade Francais 22 - 38 Newport Gwent D'gons
Bayonne 30 - 24 Exeter
Connacht 48 - 12 La Rochelle
More European Rugby Challenge Cup results
Currie Cup
Lions 50 - 20 SharksLions vs Sharks Report
Western Province 31 - 23 Blue BullsWestern Province vs Blue Bulls Report
More Currie Cup results
ITM Cup
Taranaki 49 - 30 AucklandTaranaki vs Auckland Report
Manawatu 23 - 18 Southland
Tasman 26 - 6 CanterburyTasman vs Canterbury Report
More ITM Cup results
European Rugby Champions Cup
Friday , October 17
Harlequins 25 - 9 CastresHarlequins vs Castres Report
More European Rugby Champions Cup results
European Rugby Challenge Cup
Bordeaux-Begles 13 - 15 EdinburghBordeaux-Begles vs Edinburgh Report
Newcastle 43 - 19 Bucuresti
More European Rugby Challenge Cup results
Aviva Premiership Table
PosTeamPPts
1Northampton625
2Saracens622
3Exeter620
4Bath620
5Wasps615