PREVIEW: Blues v Force

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Thursday, March 30, 2017    Lynn McConnell    Getty Images

The Blues enjoy a healthy record over the Force, winning eight of the 10 games they have played with one drawn and they come into the game on the back of a confidence-boosting win over the Bulls. But please excuse the breath being held in Auckland as these sorts of things have been seen before. The Blues need to build on the effort in their quest for positive consistency. They have two wins from five games while the Force come in with a solitary win, at home, over the Reds, although their away losses to the Waratahs and Brumbies were close affairs.

The Blues camp has been fulsome in its praise for second five-eighths TJ Faiane's debut start on Saturday. The former St Kentigern rugby star, and former NZ Under-20 team member had the misfortune to suffer season-ending knee injuries in successive seasons but was undaunted in his desire to return to the game. His determination was reflected in the way he approached his rehabilitation without ever getting down and by doing everything asked of him by the experts. No matter what he achieves through the rest of his career, something that coach Tana Umaga believes could be a long career, he has already achieved a significant personal victory.

The Force have ushered in the changes this week, some of them injury inflicted. Tetera Faulkner rejoins the starting front row after the dislocated elbow suffered by Jermaine Ainsley last week. Richie Arnold will make his first start for the side at lock while battling club veteran Matt Hodgson will play on the openside flank of the scrum. Having recovered from an ankle issue Bill Meakes returns at second five-eighths which sees Marcel Brache move to centre and Wallaby Dane Haylett-Petty returns at fullback. Curtis Rona was unavailable for the side having suffered concussion last week. Two newcomers of promise on the bench are Anaru Rangi and Australian Under-20 star Shambeckler Vui.


Blues: 1.Pauliasi Manu, 2.James Parsons (captain), 3.Charlie Faumuina, 4.Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, 5.Patrick Tuipulotu, 6.Jimmy Tupou, 7.Murphy Taramai, 8.Jerome Kaino, 9.Augustine Pulu, 10.Piers Francis, 11.Melani Nanai, 12.TJ Faiane, 13.George Moala, 14.Matt Duffie, 15.Michael Collins.

Substitutes: 16.Matt Moulds, 17.Ofa Tu'ungafasi/Sam Prattley, 18.Sione Mafileo, 19.Scott Scrafton, 20.Akira Ioane, 21.Billy Guyton, 22.Ihaia West, 23.Rieko Ioane.

Force: 1.Ben Daley, 2.Tatafu Polota-Nau, 3.Tetera Faulkner, 4.Matt Philip, 5.Richie Arnold, 6. Ross Haylett-Petty, 7.Matt Hodgson, 8.Isi Naisarani,, 9.Ryan Louwrens, 10.Jono Lance (captain), 11.Alex Newsome,12.Billy Meakes, 13.Marcel Brache, 14. Chance Peni, 15.Dane Haylett-Petty.

Substitutes: 16.Anaru Rangi, 17.Pek Cowan, 18.Shambeckler Vui, 19.Richard Hardwick, 20.Kane Koteka, 21.Michael Ruru, 22.Ian Prior, 23.Robbie Coleman.