Pat Lam, heading into his first Super 14 game as head coach of the Blues, named what he felt was the “best combination” to tackle the Western Force in Perth on Friday – naming Tasesa Lavea at flyhalf ahead of Jimmy Gopperth.
Rugby 365 reports that the team shows three changes from that which smashed the Highlanders 45-34 in their final pre-season outing last week – with all the changes related to either injury or pending fatherhood.
All Black lock Ali Williams, his brother Jay, All Black wing Rudi Wulf (all through injury), fellow All Black wing Joe Rokocoko and All Black loose forward Jerome Kaino (paternity leave) were all ruled out of Friday’s season opener.
The two Williams brothers and Wulf also missed last week’s outing against the Highlanders.
Rene Ranger comes in on the left wing for Rokocoko in the only change to the backline, while Onosai’i Auva’a will play at openside flank, with Justin Collins moving to the blindside in place of Kaino.
However, the most noteworthy selection is that of Lavea at flyhalf. Gopperth has been named on the bench.
“I just think that for this particular game that Lavea is the right person to start for us,” Lam said.
The Blues coach said he would reconsider the position at flyhalf again next week and that it could in fact be a “week-by-week” selection issue – as he will look at which player is best suited for that week’s opposition.
Lam said the match 22 for the Force match had been a challenging combination to settle on.
“One of the things we are looking at as a team is to work out what is the best combination to go out,” Lam said.
“Everyone of the 22 will have a crucial job to fulfil,” the Blues coach said, adding that the temperatures in Perth had soared to 40°C on Wednesday and he expects it to hover in the higher 20s or lower 30s by game time on Friday.
“We can’t train too long [in the heat], so we keep it short,” Lam said when asked about the team’s preparations for the game.
Blues: 15 Paul Williams, 14 Anthony Tuitavake, 13 Isaia Toeava, 12 Benson Stanley, 11 Rene Ranger, 10 Tasesa Lavea, 9 Taniela Moa, 8 Chris Lowrey, 7 Onosai’i Auva’a, 6 Justin Collins, 5 Anthony Boric, 4 Kurtis Haiu, 3 John Afoa, 2 Keven Mealamu (captain), 1 Tony Woodcock.
Replacements: 16 Tom McCartney, 17 Charlie Faumuina, 18 Dean Budd, 19 Peter Saili, 20 Chris Smylie, 21 Jimmy Gopperth, 22 Jamie Helleur.
Date: Friday, February 13
Venue: Subiaco Oval, Perth
Kick-off: 19.45 (10.45 GMT)
Referee: Bryce Lawrence (New Zealand)
Touch judges: Nathan Pearce (Australia), Julian Pritchard (Australia)
TMO: George Ayoub (Australia)