Super Rugby
Blues bench Benji Marshall for Highlanders game
ESPN Staff
February 20, 2014
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Sir John Kirwan has benched Benji Marshall for the Blues' Super Rugby opener against the Highlanders in Dunedin on Saturday.

Marshall struggled in all three trials, against the Hurricanes, the Waratahs and the Chiefs, and Kirwan said this week that the player's conversion from rugby league was "a long-term project ... if we don't think he's quite ready he won't be out there".

irwan said on Thursday: "For the first team we've named, the main feature will always be Benji. He's probably the highest-profile signing in the off-season and we just feel that he's not quite ready from a learning and understanding of the game. He's the first one to admit he's not quite ready so that was probably the biggest selection situation we had."

Marshall will cover the five-eighths and fullback positions, with Kirwan having full faith in him to perform when required. "We wouldn't put him on the bench if we didn't think he could cover both roles pretty competently so we've got him there to cover that. You know what it's like with the modern game, he'll be getting some game time."

Kirwan selected Chris Noakes instead, the playmaker having recovered from a serious neck injury. Fellow first five-eighth contender Baden Kerr will miss the first two matches of the season with a cracked thumb bone.

"He was one of our stars last year at the beginning of the season and I think he's done that again for us in the last week or so," Kirwan said of Noakes. "He's just stepped into that role, he's working really hard around his contact and is driving the football team around well. I think it's been a blessing to have Benji there trying to fit into 10. We've had Baden with a broken arm so we've had a few issues there and Noakesy's worked his way into some good form and gets the starting nod."

Charles Piutau recovered from a knee injury to take his place at fullback, joined in the starting XV by fellow end-of-year All Blacks tourists Charlie Faumuina and Steven Luatua.

Veteran All Blacks Keven Mealamu and Tony Woodcock are being rested.

Blues: Charles Piutau; Frank Halai, Jackson Willison, Francis Saili, George Moala; Chris Noakes, Piri Weepu; Peter Saili, Luke Braid (captain), Steven Luatua; Tom Donnelly, Liaki Moli; Charlie Faumuina, James Parsons, Ofa Tu'ungafasi. Replacements: Tom McCartney, Sam Prattley, Angus Ta'avao, Patrick Tuipulotu, Brendan O'Connor, Bryn Hall, Benji Marshall, Tevita Li.

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