Largely unchanged side to host Western Force

Largely unchanged side to host Western Force

The Blues are sticking with a largely unchanged line-up when they host the Western Force at Eden Park on Saturday.

There are only two changes from the starting line-up that beat the Bulls last weekend, with the game at the earlier time of 5.15pm kick-off.

Young flanker Blake Gibson gets a break after a highly physical game against the Bulls, allowing North Harbour loose forward Murphy Taramai with his second start.

Coach Tana Umaga is also trying a new midfield option, with former New Zealand Under-20 player TJ Faiane getting his first Super Rugby start at second five, with George Moala moving out to centre and Rieko Ioane to come off the bench.

“Both Blake and Rieko are young players who have done extremely well in five straight games this year. Blake had a few bumps and bruises after last week and gets a chance to freshen up and Rieko has the opportunity to provide impact off the bench.

“I am excited for TJ who has trained so hard and earned his opportunity to start. It will present us with another option at midfield and the chance for George to play a more expansive role at centre.”

Faiane, a former St Kentigern College star, played for the New Zealand Secondary Schools and the New Zealand Under-20s in 2014 and 2015, when he was also selected for Auckland. He suffered ACL injuries which ruled him out of rugby for much of 2015 and all of the 2016 season.

Umaga said the team expects a tough challenge from the Western Force, who will be motivated by the speculation that they may be dropped from the Super Rugby competition under the suggested new format.

The curtain-raiser is between the Blues A and Hurricanes A, featuring most of the Blues players not selected for the game against the Force. See the Blues A team list here.

The team is:

1 Pauliasi Manu, 2 James Parsons (c), 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.

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

Unavailable due to injury/suspension: Steven Luatua, Sonny Bill Williams, Stephen Perofeta, Alex Hodgman, Declan O’Donnell, Blake Gibson.