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Preview: Blues v Bulls

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Thursday, May 14, 2015    James Mortimer    Getty Images

Friday 15 May at 19:35 (NZST)
Eden Park Auckland

Played: 16 (1998-2014)
Blues wins: 9
Bulls wins: 7

Blues points: 535
Bulls points: 436

Last match: Blues 22 Bulls 38, 08.03.15 in Pretoria


Round 14 teams: http://bit.ly/1L4umrt

Form: It has been a tough season for the Blues in 2015, but they have won two matches in their last five and will be looking for another as Sir John Kirwan’s men will not leave Eden Park again this campaign.

Enduring arguably the toughest opening to the draw, the three-time champion’s finals hopes are gone, but they could spoil the chances of a few teams moving forward.

Injuries are beginning to bite hard, but otherwise this is a Blues team that has the attacking prowess far beyond their table position suggests, their 24 tries is not an accurate reflection of how often the side is breaking the line or beating defenders.

The Bulls in contrast are playing typical South African rugby, they are in no great rush to do anything with the ball and are happy to play territory rugby while Handre Pollard’s boot does the rest.

With a big no-nonsense pack, they will test the Blues, the Bulls forwards haven’t been completely dominant at the set piece but relish throwing their bodies into the contact areas.

Key players: The Blues casualty ward has been filling up lately but one cannot deny that Kirwan has still been able to name a potent looking squad.

Steven Luatau continues as captain while he is again joined in the back row by the sensational Akira Ioane.

Elsewhere up front the return of Charlie Faumuina is a massive boost, restoring an all-All Blacks front row alongside James Parsons and Tony Woodcock.

Ihaia West will have plenty of responsibility, but the likes of Melani Nanai and Lolagi Visinia have been bright spots out wide for the Blues, while Ben Lam and George Moala will be keen to stress the Bulls defence.

The tourists welcome back Pierre Spies, while once again New Zealand soil will welcome Victor Matfield, who forms an all international second row with Flip van der Merwe.

Pollard is the glue that holds the team together, but Bjorn Basson, JJ Engelbrecht and Francois Hougaard bring their own threats to the table so to assume the men from Pretoria are one-dimensional will be risky.

Squad update: Faumuina returns to what is a youthful looking Blues with eight players ruled out by injuries comprising Jerome Kaino, Luke Braid, Bryn Hall, Charles Piutau, Hayden Triggs, Hamish Northcott, Patrick Tuipulotu and Dan Bowden.

With an eye to the future there’s some young talent included with the inform Akira Ioane to start again after this week being named in the New Zealand Under-20 team for the world Cup along with Blues Teammates Blake Gibson, Tevita Li and apprentice Isa Tu’ungafasi.

While Keven Mealamu adds real experience and firepower on the bench, there are some young guns looking for their Super Rugby debuts in lock Will Lloyd, halfback Jamie Booth and midfield back Matt Vaega.

The return of the Bulls skipper is a big plus prior to the tour.

Spies played as a replacement in the team's last clash, against the Lions at Loftus Versfeld, and will replace Arno Botha at the back of the scrum.

Botha will move to the side of the scrum, with Jacques du Plessis moving to the bench. In the only change in the backline, Rudy Paige comes back at scrumhalf in place of injured Piet van Zyl.

There are four changes on the bench. Dean Greyling comes in Morne Mellett and a fit-again Werner Kruger will replace Andrew Beerwinkel. It will be Kruger's first appearance since the opening round of the tournament when he injured his ankle against the DHL Stormers in February. Amongst the backs, Jacques-Louis Potgieter is fit again following a hamstring strain and replace Tian Schoeman and Travis Ismaiel comes in for Jurgen Visser.