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Umaga lays down the challenge for the Blues

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Thursday, March 29, 2018    Lynn McConnell    Getty Images

The Sharks may have been well beaten by the table-topping Rebels in Australia but the Blues were in no position to talk about battering anyone. They were in the same boat as the Sharks.

"We know that they're looking at us as a wounded duck over here so we've got to make sure that we step up to that and that's the challenge we've put in front of these guys," Umaga said.

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Management had taken a look at their first four games and decided among the seven changes made for Saturday night there were opportunities for some players, while injuries had also helped feed the high number of changes.

"We haven't got the performances that we've wanted so we're rewarding some guys who have been toiling hard at training and in the A games," he said.

Leading the way is first five-eighths Stephen Perofeta who has been giving the starting role this week in partnership with halfback Jonathan Ruru.

Umaga said Perofeta was coming back from injury and had given some cameo roles off the bench and it was felt he deserved a start.

Ruru had impressed as a competitor who spoke well and was a good organiser of the side's defence line. They were happy with Sam Nock's play in the absence of skipper Augustine Pulu but it was a chance to see how a player like Ruru performed at Super Rugby level.

Adding to the wholesale change in the backline is the choice of Rieko Ioane at second five-eighths, one position in again from his preferred choice of centre. However, Sonny Bill Williams' broken wrist has resulted in Ioane being preferred with George Moala at centre outside him.
"We've been training him [Ioane] there for the last three or four weeks just because of the skills he has. He's got a very good pass, he's a good communicator, he's a good defender and he wants to play in the midfield. Again, we've seen the skills he has and obviously he gets closer to the ball as well and all those other things we think will help him shine in the midfield," he said.

"He loves a challenge and it's a good one for him," he said.

Looking back to the disappointing loss to the Stormers, Umaga felt the lack of urgency was disappointing. The urgency wasn't so much about running with the ball, it was getting to where the ball was.

There was a level of frustration not only among fans but among the coaching staff and the players.

They couldn't keep doing the same things while expecting a different result, hence the reason for changes, Umaga said.

"It's also around our preparation, both personally and collectively. The ball's in their court and those guys that have made some shifts, made some changes, they get an opportunity so we'll see what they bring."

With 12 weeks to go in the competition it was important for the Blues to make some shifts and there were still plenty of games to go to get to where they wanted.