21 Feb 2018

Blues without key players for season opener

10:40 am on 21 February 2018

A heavy injury toll has forced the Blues coach Tana Umaga to give four debutants their first taste of Super Rugby in this weekend's season opener against the Highlanders in Dunedin.

The Blues coach Tana Umaga.

The Blues coach Tana Umaga. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

The Blues backline features plenty of power with Rieko Ioane, Matt Duffie, Sonny Bill Williams, George Moala and Michael Collins.

Bryn Gatland will marshall them from first five while new captain Augustine Pulu starts at halfback.

James Parsons leads the front row with Ofa Tuungafasi and Alex Hodgman either side of him.

Scott Scrafton and Gerard Cowley-Tuioti make up the locking combination with an in-form Akira Ioane at No8 with two North Harbour loose forwards in Murphy Taramai and Glenn Preston.

All Black Patrick Tuipulotu, back after a niggling injury, will come off the bench as well Blues newcomers Leni Apisai, Mike Tamoaieta, Jonathan Ruru, Daniel Kirkpatrick and loose forward brackets, Antonio Kiri Kiri and Sione Havili.

The Blues have 12 players not considered because of injury, including Jerome Kaino and Jimmy Tupou, who coach Tana Umaga is giving an additional week to shake off minor injuries.

It is an important opening game for the Blues who enjoyed a productive pre-season that included the victory at Brisbane.

"Everyone is excited to get the season underway and I'm pleased with the attitude and application from our players in pre-season," said Umaga.

"We continued to improve last year but we know that we need to do better against our fellow New Zealand teams, especially with two full derby rounds this year, and also deliver on those key moments in what is going to be a very tight and tough season.

"We have a few players with longer-term injuries, and some with lesser injuries that could have possibly played if pushed, but this is a long season and player welfare is really important."

The Blues 23 to face the Highlanders:

1. Alex Hodgman, 2. James Parsons, 3. Ofa Tuungafasi, 4. Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, 5. Scott Scrafton, 6. Glenn Preston, 7. Murphy Taramai, 8. Akira Ioane; 9. Augustine Pulu ©, 10. Bryn Gatland, 11. Rieko Ioane, 12. Sonny Bill Williams, 13. George Moala, 14. Matt Duffie,15. Michael Collins.

Reserves: 16. Leni Apisai, 17. Pauliasi Manu, 18. Michael Tamoaieta, 19. Patrick Tuipulotu, 20 Sione Havili/Antonio Kiri Kiri, 21. Jonathan Ruru, 22. Daniel Kirkpatrick, 23. Melani Nanai.

Players not considered because of injury: Otere Black (knee), Blake Gibson (shoulder), Matt Moulds (knee), Dalton Papalii (hand), Stephen Perofeta (hand), Kara Pryor (ankle), TJ Faiane (calf), Jerome Kaino (ankle), Isaac Salmon (elbow), Jimmy Tupou (rib), Sione Mafileo (knee).