Preview: Blues v Brumbies

Date published: April 9 2015

Still winless as Super Rugby hits Round 9, the Blues play host to one of this year's form teams, the Brumbies, in Auckland on Friday.

The vultures are circling as Sir John Kirwan's head is on the chopping block. The Blues boss will hope a return to Eden Park will help revive his team's fortunes as they try to break out of their worst-ever losing streak.

The Blues have played both their home fixtures at North Harbour this season but with the Cricket World Cup now finished, they can return to their fortress in Auckland, where they won six out of seven games last year.

With six of their remaining nine matches at Eden Park, Kirwan is optimistic that his team can still finish midtable, but if their losing run continues, he will surely face the axe.

A win on Friday is vital as another defeat will see the lack of confidence which is hampering their efforts really take root.

"It is frustrating and what you've got to do is turn that frustration into hard work," said Kirwan midweek.

"I'm frustrated for the fans and supporters because we're actually playing with courage and commitment which is incredible under the circumstances."

Despite their lowly position in the standings, Blues are certainly on an upward curve and have collected five bonus points this term – more than any other team – with last week's narrow loss to the high-flying Chiefs illustrative of their ability to play decent rugby.

They face a stiff challenge in the Aussie Conference leaders, who have impressed this year, especially up front.

The Brumbies also have the best line-out in the competition and have forced a worse ruck success rate from their opponents than any other team. By contrast, the Blues have averaged more rucks lost per game than any other side this season (5.3).

As a result, Kirwan has taken the bold step of benching big All Black loose forward Steven Luatua in order to start with specialist openside flankers – Luke Braid and Brendan O'Connor – up against breakdown maestro David Pocock.

Look out for a fast start from the visitors. The Brumbies have managed more opening quarter tries (seven) than any other side this season, while the Blues have scored the fewest, (one).

The Brumbies have won the last two meetings between the sides, but have never won three on the bounce against the Blues.

The last time these team met: It was one-way traffic in Canberra last year as the Brumbies outscored their visitors three tries to none – including a double for Pat McCabe – to win 26-9 with their superior kicking game playing a major role in a well-deserved win.

Players to watch: The Blues rely so heavily on skipper Jerome Kaino that if he has a bad day, they're unlikely to succeed. That rarely happens but Kaino's leadership skills will be more important than ever as the hosts must maintain their discipline around the rucks. For the Brumbies, Henry Speight makes his second start in the unfamiliar 13 jersey. The Wallaby flyer was excellent there on attack last week but will be tested defensively by a dangerous Blues backline.

Team news: There are four changes to the Blues starting XV. James Parsons replaces Keven Mealamu at hooker, Luke Braid takes over from Luatua on the blindside flank and Patrick Tuipulotu coming in for Hayden Triggs in the second row. Melani Nanai returns on the left wing for Tevita Li. The Brumbies have named an unchanged starting side.

Form: The Blues are currently on a nine-match losing streak, their worst-ever run of form. They went down 23-16 away to the Chiefs last week. The Brumbies have won five of their seven games this year, cruising past the Cheetahs 20-3 last week after losing 28-13 away to the Waratahs a week before.

Predictions: The last eight meetings between the Blues and Brumbies have followed a pattern of two victories followed by two defeats for the Auckland – based side.  If this run were to continue, the Blues would win this game. They've been competitive all year, so we reckon it's time they finally crack a win. Blues by four points!

Previous results:
2014: Brumbies won 26-9 in Canberra
2013: Brumbies won 20-13 in Auckland
2012: Blues won 30-16 in Canberra
2010: Blues won 39-34 in Auckland

The teams:

Blues: 15 Charles Piutau, 14 Frank Halai, 13 Pita Ahki, 12 George Moala, 11 Melani Nanai, 10 Dan Bowden, 9 Jamison Gibson-Park, 8 Jerome Kaino (c), 7 Brendon O'Connor, 6 Luke Braid, 5 Patrick Tuipulotu, 4 Josh Bekhuis, 3 Charlie Faumuina, 2 James Parsons, 1 Ofa Tu'ungafasi.
Replacements: 16 Keven Mealamu, 17 Sam Prattley, 18 Angus Ta'avao, 19 Hayden Triggs, 20 Steven Luatua, 21 Jamie Booth, 22 Ihaia West, 23 Francis Saili.

Brumbies:15 Robbie Coleman, 14 Joe Tomane, 13 Henry Speight, 12 Christian Lealiifano, 11 James Dargaville, 10 Matt Toomua, 9 Nic White, 8 Jarrad Butler, 7 David Pocock, 6 Scott Fardy, 5 Sam Carter, 4 Blake Enever, 3 Ben Alexander, 2 Stephen Moore (c), 1 Scott Sio
Replacements: 16 Josh Mann-Rea, 17 JP Smith, 18 Ruan Smith, 19 Jordan Smiler, 20 Ita Vaea, 21 Michael Dowsett, 22 Lausii Taliauli, 23. Nigel Ah Wong.

Date: Friday, April 10
Venue: Eden Park Stadium, Auckland
Kick-off:  19:35 local (07:35 GMT, 17:35 AEDT, 09:35 SAST)
Referee:  Andrew Lees
Assistant referees: Nick Briant, Brendon Pickerill
Television match official: Ben Skeen