PREVIEW: Blues v Rebels

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Thursday, May 31, 2018    Lynn McConnell    Getty Images

Match details: Blues v Rebels, Eden Park, 5.15pm, Saturday, June 2

Played: 6
Won: Blues 4, Rebels 2
Last time: Rebels 18-56 Blues, at Aami Park, Melbourne, February 23, 2017


The Blues have managed only three wins this season, against the Lions (38-35), the Sunwolves (24-10) and the Waratahs (24-21). Their losses have been to the Highlanders (34-41a and 16-34h), the Chiefs (21-27h and 19-21a), the Stormers (20-37), the Sharks (40-63), the Jaguares (13-20), the Hurricanes (15-36) and the Crusaders 24-32). The Rebels started the season with three wins against the Reds (45-19), the Sunwolves (37-17) and the Brumbies (33-10). They lost to the Waratahs (27-51), beat the Sharks (46-14), then had five consecutive losses to the Hurricanes (19-50), the Jaguares (22-25), the Bulls (10-28), the Stormers (18-34), the Crusaders (10-55). They have two consecutive wins heading into Saturday's game over the Brumbies (27-24) and the Sunwolves (40-13).


Hooker Matt Moulds gets his first start for the year with James Parson not recovered from the head knock he received last week. Prop Alex Hodgman has recovered from a wrist injury which kept him out for nine games. Lock Matiaha Martin gets his second start after coming in as a late replacement due to the locking injuries the side has suffered. Sonny Bill Williams took a knock at All Blacks' training and is bracketed with Terrence Hepetema while Rieko Ioane will sit out the game for his rest required as part of the All Blacks' welfare regime. Michael Collins is back at fullback while Matt Duffie returns to the right wing. The Rebels have rested halfback Will Genia ahead of the June Test series against Ireland while have prop Jermain Ainsley returning to the front row and loose forward Ross Haylett-Petty returning to the bench. Also left out our wing Sefa Naivalu, another Wallabies choice, and Pone Fa'amausili.


Coach Dave Wessels said: "We've worked hard over the last couple of weeks on our ability to finish games strongly – this is due in large part to the work our conditioning staff have put into the team as well as the impressive impact our bench has made in recent weeks. They've come on and really wanted to rattle the cage. It's great to have Ross Haylett-Petty coming back in. He trained really well this week and effectively forced us to pick him. He gives us flexibility in the back five [of the pack] and is obviously fit and powerful. We look forward to seeing his impact." With eight players included in the Wallabies squad, a record for the team, there was pride in the achievement but at the same time Wessel said they were also looking forward to the challenge in Auckland.


The Blues may have had another season to forget but they are unbeaten in their last 11 games against Australian sides, although eight of their 10 wins (one game was drawn) have been by single-figure margins. And the Blues top the competition for their average of 124 carries per game this year, although in four of their last seven games they have made fewer than 100 carries.


Apart from looking to keep the pressure on in the Australia Conference, the Rebels are chasing a record-equalling seven victories in a season at Eden Park on Saturday. Dynamic Rebels No.8 Amanaki Mafi heads the competition for his 185 carries this year which has seen him gain 1005m, the next highest being Lions forward Kwagga Smith with 524m. (Opta)


Blues: 1.Alex Hodgman, 2.Matt Moulds, 3.Ofa Tuungafasi, 4.Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, 5.Matiaha Martin, 6.Jerome Kaino, 7.Dalton Papalii, 8.Akira Ioane, 9.Augusting Pulu (captain), 10.Stephen Perofeta, 11.Tumua Manu, 12.Sonny Bill Williams/Terrence Hepetema, 13.Orbyn Leger, 14.Matt Duffie, 15.Michael Collins.

Substitutes: 16.Leni Apisai, 17.Pauliasi Manu, 18.Sione Mafileo, 19.Ben Nee-Nee, 20.Sione Havili, 21.Jonathan Ruru, 22.Bryn Gatland, 23.TJ Faiane/Hepetema.

Rebels: 1.Fereti Sa'aga, 2.Anaru Rangi, 3.Jermaine Ainsley, 4.Matt Philip, 5.Adam Coleman (captain), 6.Angus Cottrell, 7.Colby Fainga'a, 8.Amanaki Mafi, 9.Michael Ruru, 10.Reece Hodge, 11.Marika Koroibete, 12.Billy Meakes, 13.Tom English, 14.Jack Maddocks, 15.Dane Haylett-Petty.

Substitutes: 16.Jordan Uelese, 17.Ben Daley, 18.Sam Talaki, 19.Geoff Parling, 20.Ross Haylett-Petty, 21.Harrison Goddard, 22.Tayler Adams, 23.Lopeti Timani.