Preview: Blues v Chiefs
Saturday, February 14, 2015 James Mortimer Getty Images
H2H: Played 23, Blues 10, Chiefs 13
Last time: Chiefs 11 Blues 8, 11.07.14 in Auckland
Squad update: Competitive halfback Jimmy Cowan will earn his first Blues cap, and he will form what could be an eye catching partnership with Ihaia West; one of many young playmakers rising through the New Zealand Rugby ranks.
New All Blacks hooker James Parsons partners Tony Woodcock in what looks to be close to a full strength Blues pack, although Keven Mealamu is still to return while Luke Braid will make his return from injury off the bench.
There is strike power all over the squad, with All Blacks Charles Piutau and Francis Saili named at right wing and second five-eighth respectively, while livewire dynamo Tevita Li will start with number 11 on his back.
The tourists may be missing some players, think the twin kingpins Liam Messam and Aaron Cruden, but Dave Rennie has still been able to name a potent XV.
Matt Symons has been given the captain’s armband, while new caps Johan Bardoul and Maama Vaipulu have named for their maiden start with the Chiefs.
Form: The Blues lost to the Chiefs in their first preseason match 41-20, but they were able to notch a warm up victory when beating the Hurricanes 32-29.
This adds to an unwanted record, unable to defeat their close neighbours in two attempts last year, and the losing streak now stands at seven – with the Auckland based team having to look back to March 26, 2011 for their last success against the mana men from Waikato.
The two-time champions played the Waratahs in their final warm up fixture, but the reigning title holders won 38-36.
Key Players: The return of Woodcock for the Blues cannot be underestimated, with one of the most durable loosehead props in history a vital component if the Auckland based outfit is to set the platform for their menacing backs.
Jerome Kaino’s appointment as captain ticks all the boxes, like his Test skipper, the powerful blindside is a lead by example totem that his men will follow into the dark places.
Piutau has shown he is at ease at the highest level, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if he marshalled many of the running plays.
The Chiefs have not hesitated in naming Sonny Bill Williams at second five-eighth, and the big centre will be a sight if his game has evolved further from the last time we saw him in the Waikato based team’s jersey.
Damian McKenzie has been handed the start at ten, while James Lowe and Tim Nanai-Williams will play at left and right wing respectively.
Sonny Bill’s partnership with Maori captain Charlie Ngatai will create some form of panic in the home team's defensive ranks; with Blues second five-eighth Francis Saili tasked with marking SBW.
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