Benji benched again for Blues
April 15, 2014
Benji Marshall remains on the pine for the Blues © Getty Images
Benji Marshall has again been named on the bench for the Blues despite coach John Kirwan making seven changes to the starting line-up for Friday's Super Rugby clash with the Hurricanes in Wellington.
The 29-year-old, who signed a two-year deal with the Blues, has spent most of his time on the bench since leaving National Rugby League club Wests Tigers and there has been speculation of a return to rugby league for Marshall.
Three of the changes have been to the Blues' sputtering backline who started in the 26-9 loss to the Brumbies in Canberra two weeks ago, including another rotation at fly-half, where Chris Noakes replaces young playmaker Simon Hickey.
"I think Noakesy's tactical kicking game and tactical awareness at this stage is what we need against the Hurricanes," Kirwan said.
Several Blues players have recovered from injury, allowing Kirwan to select close to his strongest team for Friday's match, which pits his 11th-placed side against the 10th-placed hosts. Both teams are coming off byes and boast an identical three win-four loss record.
Francis Saili returns from injury at centre to partner Ma'a Nonu in the midfield. It pushes George Moala out one spot to the right wing, forcing Frank Halai to the bench. On the left wing, Lolagi Visinia makes his first start of the season in place of Tevita Li.
All Blacks hooker Keven Mealamu has shaken off ongoing calf niggles to replace Tom McCartney at hooker, while there is a cleanout at lock where Tom Donnelly and Patrick Tuipulotu both return from injury to replace Hayden Triggs and Liaki Moli. Captain Luke Braid starts on the openside flanker in place of Brendon O'Connor after coming off the bench in Canberra. Jerome Kaino shifts from blindside flanker to No.8 in a swap with All Black Steven Luatua.
"Jerome gives us a little bit more experience and control at eight," Kirwan said. "I think we're talking two very similar players but one's a bit younger (Luatua) and a little less experienced and one's a bit older with a wiser head."
Piri Weepu, who returned to training this week after suffering a minor stroke and undergoing a heart operation, has been earmarked for a playing return against the New South Wales Waratahs on April 25.
Blues: Charles Piutau; George Moala, Francis Saili, Ma'a Nonu, Lolagi Visinia; Chris Noakes, Bryn Hall; Jerome Kaino, Luke Braid (captain), Steven Luatua; Tom Donnelly, Patrick Tuipulotu; Charlie Faumuina, Keven Mealamu, Tony Woodcock. Replacements: James Parsons, Sam Prattley, Angus Ta'avao, Liaki Moli, Brendon O'Connor, Jamison Gibson-Park, Benji Marshall, Frank Halai.