Desperate times, desperate measures. Blues coach David Nucifora has demoted All Black midfielder Isaia Toeava and handed exciting prospects Taniela Moa and David Smith their first starts of the season in Friday’s make-or-break visit to the Crusaders.
Marc Hinton of RugbyHeaven NZ reports that Nucifora has made three changes to his backline for the AMI Stadium matchup that his team almost certainly needs to win to keep alive its shot at a semifinal spot, the most contentious of which will be the dropping of Toeava to the bench.
The big-stepping Anthony Tuitavake moves into Toeava’s No 13 jersey which allows speedster Smith to earn his first start of the year and just his second outing for the Blues. Rudi Wulf retains his place on the left wing.
The other change is at halfback where Moa finally gets a start that the critics have been calling for. The 23-year-old will play his 14th game for the Blues, but it will be the first occasion he has run out in the No 9 jersey.
Nucifora said after unveiling his lineup that the changes would hopefully provide a “spark” to the team’s attack which had floundered in the fortnight before last weekend’s bye. The Blues suffered back-to-back losses to the NSW Waratahs (away) and ACT Brumbies (home) that have placed their season on the precipice.
“We just decided we needed to make some changes to try and spark a few things,” said the under-pressure Blues coach. “Anthony brings a different type of game into centre, and we feel he’s best suited this week to play there against them.”
The coach also admitted that a visit to play the old enemy (whom the Blues hold a winning record against in Super rugby) was as good a time as any to try and regain that spark.
“The boys have no trouble getting up for the game, there’s no doubt about that. I do see it as a positive, I think it is a good thing to be going down there to play them. It’s a big challenge for us and if anything is going to get us up it’ll be this.”
Nucifora also attempted to play down the “must-win” nature of the visit to AMI Stadium.
“All the games for all those teams on the points table are must-win,” he said. “You’ve only got to take a quick glance at the table and see that everyone needs to keep winning that’s in that big group. Yeah, we need to take points.”
Nucifora has left his forward pack intact, though he made it more than clear that the sort of rugby that had been produced over the previous fortnight was a long way short of the mark.
“We just aren’t playing at our best at the moment. We’ve tinkered with a few things this week with selection, and we’re not far off it.
“You’ve only got to look at other results in this competition … there are no poor teams and you just have a very slim margin for error and if you’re only a few perecnt off your best you’re going to get beaten.
“That’s where we’ve been, and we’ve got to turn it around this week. We’ve got a huge game in front of us. And we’ll be going down there and giving it our best shot.”
BLUES: 15 Isa Nacewa, 14 David Smith, 13 Anthony Tuitavake, 12 Benson Stanley, 11 Rudi Wulf, 10 Nick Evans, 9 Taniela Moa, 8 Nick Williams, 7 Daniel Braid, 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Troy Flavell (captain), 4 Anthony Boric, 3 John Afoa, 2 Keven Mealamu, 1 Tony Woodcock.
Reserves: 16 Nick White, 17 Bronson Murray, 18 Kurtis Haiu, 19 Justin Collins, 20 Danny Lee, 21 Isaia Toeava, 22 Ben Atiga.