Preview: Blues v Sharks

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Thursday, May 22, 2014    James Mortimer    Getty Images

Friday, May 22, 2014, 19:35pm (NZT)

Head to head: Played 17, Blues 4, Sharks 13

Last match: Blues 20-22 Sharks (June 29, 2013)

Squad update: The return of talisman Luke Braid is a big positive for the team, he brings energy to the forwards that has five players who recently attended the recent All Blacks training camp. Their contribution will be crucial, as will the likes of Ma’a Nonu and new face and midfield partner Pita Ahki, if they are to breach perhaps the best defence in Investec Super Rugby.

The Sharks are without Jean Deysel due to suspension, meaning Jacques Botes comes into the team, the only change to the overall squad. Plenty of the tourist’s esteemed defence comes from their belligerence during the tight exchanges, while the Blues discipline will need to be on guard with Frans Steyn’s ability to sniper from long range.

Form: The Blues have shown glimpses, but lack of continual results has the Auckland based franchise placed tenth and under pressure to record wins, their recent streak has only yielded two wins from five games. Their recent history won’t be too upsetting, after all the Sharks themselves showed how such ledgers can be erased in Christchurch.

Meanwhile Jake White’s troops have a style that few would describe as elegant, but their approach has them on the verge of being the most successful touring team in 2014 Super Rugby – aiming for their third win in four tour matches in Australasia.

Key Players: Obviously the All Blacks in the starting team need to make significant contributions, but other key members of the setup, namely Peter Saili up front and Simon Hickey out wide, will hold the key against a Sharks side very comfortable playing chess style tactics.

The Sharks Springbok laden pack battened down the hatches at AMI Stadium which underlined their championship credentials, rarely is a Crusaders forward offensive unable to dominate as it was last weekend, and the Blues pack – sometimes regarded as physical but loose – will need to win the battle up front, especially at the set piece.

Blues: 15 Lolagi Visinia, 14 Frank Halai, 13 Pita Ahki, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Tevita Li, 10 Simon Hickey, 9 Bryn Hall, 8 Jerome Kaino, 7 Luke Braid (c), 6 Peter Saili, 5 Tom Donnelly, 4 Patrick Tuipulotu, 3 Charlie Faumuina, 2 Keven Mealamu, 1 Tony Woodcock.

Replacement: 16 James Parsons, 17 Sam Prattley, 18 Angus Ta'avao, 19 Hayden Triggs, 20 Steven Luatua, 21 Jamison Gibson-Park, 22 Ihaia West, 23 Albert Nikoro.

Sharks: 15 SP Marais, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 S'bura Sithole, 12 Paul Jordaan, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Francois Steyn, 9 Cobus Reinach, 8 Willem Alberts, 7 Tera Mtembu, 6 Jacques Botes, 5 Stephan Lewies, 4 Etienne Oosthuizen, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis (c), 1 Tendai Mtawarira

Replacements: 16 Kyle Cooper, 17 Dale Chadwick, 18 Lourens Adriaanse, 19 Ryan Kankowski, 20 Keegan Daniel, 21 Charl McLeod, 22 Tim Swiel, 23 Heimar Williams