Preview: Blues v Highlanders
Thursday, March 27, 2014 Sportal.co.nz Getty Images
LAST TIME: Blues 21 lost to Highlanders 29, February 22, 2014, Forsyth Barr Stadium
WALKING WOUNDED: Piri Weepu's absence due to a minor stroke is a big blow for the Blues, coming unexpectedly. He will be replaced by Bryn Hall who has been getting increased time recently. Sonatane Takulua will take the back-up spot on the bench as Jamison Gibson-Park is still not over his foot injury. Hooker Keven Mealamu is also still absent from the side. Injuries haven't been a concern for the Highlanders with the only changes seeing Ged Robinson and Chris King starting in the front row with Liam Coltman and Craig Millar on the bench while Jarrad Hoeata will start at lock.
FORM: Both sides enjoyed wins last weekend but it was the Highlanders who had more cause to be satisfied in the manner of their win, albeit over a fast-finishing Hurricanes side, while the Blues were unconvincing in large parts of their win over the Cheetahs and were left with plenty to work on in training during the week.
WE THINK: The Blues will have been rocked by the Piri Weepu news but it will give them an incentive to play well. Having Jerome Kaino and Ma'a Nonu starting will be a boost for the side and it will be interesting to see if they can provide the starting spark that has been missing for the side. It is interesting that Steven Luatua will start at No.8 and his link with halfback Bryn Hall could be decisive in giving a good start to the backline. By contrast, the Highlanders have been a more settled combination and it will be interesting to see how centre Malakai Fekitoa celebrates his homecoming. The Blues forward pack will be under pressure in this contest but a suggestion of greater mobility may be enough to see them edge the visitors in this contest.
Blues: 1.Tony Woodcock, 2.Tom McCartney, 3.Charlie Faumuina, 4.Liaki Moli, 5.Hayden Triggs, 6.Jerome Kaino, 7.Luke Braid, 8.Steven Luatua, 9.Bryn Hall, 10.Simon Hickey, 11.George Moala, 12.Ma'a Nonu, 13.Jackson Willison, 14.Frank Halai, 15.Charles Piutau.
Reserves: 16.James Parsons, 17.Ofa Tu'ungafasi, 18.Angus Ta'avao, 19.Tom Donnelly, 20.Peter Saili, 21.Sonatane Takulua, 22.Pita Ahki, 23. Benji Marshall.
Highlanders: 1.Kane Hames, 2.Ged Robinson, 3.Chris King, 4.Brad Thorn, 5.Jarrad Hoeata, 6.Elliot Dixon, 7.Shane Christie, 8.Nasi Manu (co-captain), 9.Aaron Smith, 10.Lima Sopoaga, 11.Patrick Osborne, 12.Phil Burleigh, 13.Malakai Fekitoa, 14.Richard Buckman, 15.Ben Smith (co-captain).
Reserves: 16.Liam Coltman, 17.Craig Millar, 18.Ma'afu Fia, 19.Joe Wheeler, 20.TJ Ioane, 21.Fumiaki Tanaka, 22.Hayden Parker, 23.Shaun Treeby.
REFEREE: Steve Walsh
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