PREVIEW: Blues v Reds

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Thursday, June 1, 2017    Lynn McConnell    Getty Images

Round 14: Blues v Reds, Apia Stadium, 7.35pm, June 2, 2017

It is an indication of improving fortunes for the Blues that they come into the game with the distinctly better record of the two sides. In the last five games their only loss is their away trip to Cape Town when the Stormers won 30-22. Last week they drew 16-16 with the Chiefs to staunch the flow of losses to New Zealand side and before that they had beaten the Brumbies (18-12), the Waratahs (40-33) and the Cheetahs (50-32). The Reds in recent weeks lost to the Force (26-40) last week, they beat the Rebels (29-24) and lost to the Chiefs (17-46) and the Waratahs (26-29).

It's the 55th anniversary of Samoan independence this weekend and both sides have plenty to contribute to the occasion. For the Reds it is their chance to end New Zealand's dominance of the Australian teams in Super Rugby this year. For the Blues it is a chance to claim another win to ensure their best season for some years even if it doesn't involve making the play-offs. Reds coach Nick Stiles has made four changes to his starting line-up for the game on the back of their loss to the Force last weekend. Missing will be hooker Stephen Moore with Andrew Ready having his first game since Round Eight. Taniela Tupou will have his second start of the year at tighthead prop. Lock Izack Rodda has had a long wait to get the call-up and will start for the first time since Round Five. At halfback James Tuttle has been preferred ahead of Nick Frisby.

It's a special occasion not just because of its historical significance but because it features some players who have not been able to make as big a contribution to the Blues' season, on the field, as they might have wanted. Exciting backs Rene Ranger and Declan O'Donnell have been frustrated by injuries but should relish the chances they get in Apia. Second five-eighths TJ Faiane has not had a lot of opportunities and the same applies to halfback Sam Nock. Flanker Kara Pryor has been in the shadow of Blake Gibson while flanker Jimmy Tupou had a big role to play during the early stages of the season before injuries curtailed his involvement. And for all the side there is the chance to push for a place in the team to meet the British & Irish Lions next Wednesday.


Blues: 1.Alex Hodgman, 2.James Parsons (captain), 3.Sione Mafileo, 4.Patrick Tuipulotu, 5.Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, 6.Jimmy Tupou, 7.Kara Pryor, 8.Steven Luatua, 9.Sam Nock, 10.Piers Francis, 11.Rieko Ioane, 12.TJ Faiane, 13.Rene Ranger, 14.Declan O'Donnell,15.Melani Nanai.

Substitutes: 16.Hame Faiva, 17.Sam Prattley, 18.Ofa Tu'ungafasi, 19.Akira Ioane, 20.Murphy Taramai, 21.Billy Guyton, 22.Stephen Perofeta, 23.JordanTrainor.

Reds: 1.Sef Fa'agase, 2.Andrew Ready, 3.Taniela Tupou, 4.Izack Rodda, 5.Lukhan Tui, 6.Hendrik Tui, 7.George Smith, 8.Scott Higginbotham, 9.James Tuttle, 10.Quade Cooper, 11.Eto Nabuli, 12.Duncan Paia'aua, 13.Samu Kerevi (captain), 14.Chris Kuridrani, 15.Karmichael Hunt.

Substitutes: 16.Alex Mafi, 17.Kirwan Sanday, 18.Sam Talakai, 19.Kane Douglas, 20.Adam Korczyk, 21.Caleb Timu, 22.Nick Frisby, 23.Jake McIntyre.