Blues to start Ma'a Nonu and Jerome Kaino
March 27, 2014
Jerome Kaino made an impact against the Cheetahs in round six © Getty Images
Nonu's inclusion to play his 2013 team-mates at inside centre sees Jackson Willison move out one position with George Moala shifted to the wing and Tevita Li dropping out of the matchday 23. Kaino, meanwhile, starts at blindside flanker with Steven Luatua shifted to No.8 to cover for Peter Saili, who has been unable to take full part in training this week due to a sore foot.
Hooker Tom Donnelly and second-row Hayden Triggs will each also make their first start of the season, replacing James Parsons and Tom Donnelly respectively. Kirwan said that Parsons and Donnelly had each shouldered a large workload this season, and he had to manage them.
Bryn Hall wears the No.9 jumper in Piri Weepu's absence after the former All Blacks scrum-half was found to have suffered a minor stroke, with Northland halfback Sonatane Takulua, who played in the Blues' pre-season fixtures, moving onto the bench as Jamison Gibson-Park is still injured.
Blues coach Kirwan accepted he was fortunate to have world-class players in Nonu and Kaino to bring into in the starting XV.
"They're two World Cup-winning All Blacks, and it was part of the plan to get them out there against the Cheetahs last week and get them on the football field from the first whistle against the Highlanders," Kirwan said. "I like the intensity they bring around the place, and I like the way they go about their business. They're a bit uncompromising which is what we need against the Highlanders on Saturday."
Blues 40-30 Cheetahs (video available only in Australia)
Kirwan was happy with the Blues' performance last week upon their return from South Africa, defeating the Cheetahs 40-30 at Eden Park, but he said the side would have to work much harder to defeat the Highlanders.
"We had a win that we were happy with and we got maximum points, but I think we just need to look more at our own performance," he said. "We realise that we're going to have to be better to beat the Highlanders. They're a better football team this year, they're playing really well, they've got confidence, so we need to tidy up one or two of our things and just get a little bit harder on each other about performing for the full 80 minutes."
Blues: Charles Piutau; Frank Halai, Jackson Willison, Ma'a Nonu, George Moala; Simon Hickey, Bryn Hall; Steven Luatua, Luke Braid (captain), Jerome Kaino; Hayden Triggs, Liaki Moli; Charlie Faumuina, Tom McCartney, Tony Woodcock. Replacements: James Parsons, Ofa Tu'ungafasi, Angus Ta'avao, Tom Donnelly, Peter Saili, Sonatane Takulua, Pita Ahki, Benji Marshall.
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