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Blues look to retain possession for best effects

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Thursday, March 9, 2017    Lynn McConnell    Getty Images

Coach Tana Umaga said the side had shown in the first 30 minutes against the Chiefs last weekend that when they got their hands on the ball they were a different side, but they had let themselves down with back-to-back errors in the last 10 minutes of the first half and the second half then became very difficult.

He said after the loss to the Chiefs there was probably more on the Highlanders game than previously and his returning All Blacks were a boost. The loss had been a reminder of the step up and the intensity of playing the New Zealand teams.

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The choice of Murphy Taramai at No.8 was reward for the hard work he was doing and with his support role for the openside flank he was a good foil for flanker Blake Gibson. And with Akira Ioane not having one of his better games against the Chiefs it was a chance to give Taramai the start with Ioane coming off the bench.

Gibson was starting to achieve the levels he did when bursting onto the scene last year, also against the Highlanders at Eden Park, with a superb try. Injury has been an issue since then but at the weekend he had been the players' player of the day and they were happy with the way he was going, he said.

They were looking forward to the energy that George Moala would bring to the side starting at second five-eighths. They were happy with the benefits he had shown of his All Blacks experience and he had shown good touches when coming off the bench.

He deserved his start and hopefully the work that had gone in would see him in his best form, Umaga said.

The Highlanders liked to put a lot of pressure on through their kicking so the demand for the Blues was to field the kicks, look after the ball, and then switch into the structures they wanted to play.
Returning to the side after a concussion recovery is hooker and captain James Parsons.

Umaga said Parsons had been disappointed not to be back in action earlier but the management had taken the view that they needed to tick every box and to take as long as it took to get him right.

Parsons said it had been a long process but he was excited to have his chance to play again.

He played 40 minutes in the Blues' development squad game against the Chiefs squad last weekend and said he had come out of it less sore than after the contact sessions he had been through with the Blues over the previous four weeks.

"They've put me through my paces for about a month now," he said.

The key against the Highlanders would be winning the contact and collision areas while also setting a platform up front to provide quality ball for the backs.

"It's a simple game rugby, sometimes we over-complicate it," he said.

There would be a desire to improve the lineout accuracy after Brodie Retallick and Dominic Bird had made life uncomfortable for the Blues last week.

"We've just got to make sure that we pick the right areas and get the throws right and give ourselves the best opportunity to win clean ball," he said.