Preview: Blues v Reds

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Thursday, May 1, 2014    James Mortimer    Getty Images

Friday, May 2, 2014, 19:35pm KO (NZT)

Head to Head: Played 19, Blues 8, Reds 10, Drawn 1

Last time: Blues 11-12 Reds in Brisbane (April 26, 2013)

Walking wounded: The Blues have confirmed that midfielder Francis Saili is a late scratching, joining regular captain Luke Braid and Sam Prattley who were also ruled out this week. But with seven past or present All Blacks in the Auckland base team’s starting XV, the side’s injury toll has eased.

The Reds may be missing backs Dom Shipperly and Lachie Turner, but the return of the likes of Liam Gill and Ben Daley ensures the visitor’s pack is at full strength.

Form: The Blues may be bottom of the New Zealand Conference, but their ninth position overall means the franchise still has a chance to qualify for the Super Rugby Finals Series, but these hopes are tightrope thin. Sir John Kirwan’s troops might have played out a spirited and muscular 21-13 win over the Waratahs, but with four wins in their nine so far, a victory march is required.

The Reds are thirteenth overall and they would need to win their last seven games to reach the knockout stages. They have however won four of their last clashes with the Blues.

Key players: All Blacks and Blues hooker Keven Mealamu assumes the captaincy in Braid’s absence, and looks to be relishing his work of late. It is however the physical menace that will want to be repeated by the likes of Jerome Kaino and Ma’a Nonu, while Simon Hickey is looking more and more comfortable with his hand on the tiller.

While there will be plenty of attention on the largely out of form Wallabies contingent of Queensland, all focus will be Quade Cooper, returning to a ground with some rough World Cup memories on the eve of his 100th Super Rugby game.

Blues (revised): 15 Charles Piutau, 14 Frank Halai, 13 Jackson Willison, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Lolagi Visinia, 10 Simon Hickey, 9 Bryn Hall, 8 Jerome Kaino, 7 Brendon O'Connor, 6 Peter Saili, 5 Tom Donnelly, 4 Patrick Tuipulotu, 3 Charlie Faumuina, 2 Keven Mealamu (c), 1 Tony Woodcock.

Replacements: 16 James Parsons, 17 Ofa Tu'ungafasi, 18 Angus Ta'avao, 19 Hayden Triggs, 20 Piri Weepu, 21 Steven Luatua, 22 Ihaia West, 23 George Moala.

Reds: 15 Mike Harris, 14 Chris Feauai-Sautia, 13 Ben Tapuai, 12 Anthony Fainga'a, 11 Rod Davies, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Will Genia, 8 Jake Schatz, 7 Liam Gill, 6 Eddie Quirk, 5 James Horwill (c), 4 Rob Simmons, 3 Greg Holmes, 2 Saia Fainga'a, 1 James Slipper.

Replacements: 16 James Hanson, 17 Ben Daley, 18 Jono Owen, 19 Ed O'Donoghue, 20 Beau Robinson, 21 Nick Frisby, 22 Ben Lucas, 23 Jamie-Jerry Taulagi