Tom Chamberlain makes his debut at flanker and All Blacks wing Rudi Wulf switches to fullback as the Blues present a patched up team for the crucial clash with the Hurricanes.
Blues coach Pat Lam is hoping rookie flanker Tom Chamberlain can bring a bit of ruggedness and freshness to a seriously rearranged team that is charged with trying upset the table-topping Hurricanes in Wellington on Friday night.
Duncan Johnstone writes for Rugbyheaven NZ that Chamberlain makes his debut and All Blacks wing Rudi Wulf switches to fullback as the Blues patched things up amidst a horror injury toll and poor form from last week’s loss to the Reds.
Chamberlain, a Marist specialist openside who has been part of the Blues wider training squad, gets his opportunity amidst a major injury crisis in the back row.
Josh Blackie (knee), Chris Lowrey (knee) and Justin Collins (concussion) are all out.
Regular lock Kurtis Haiu converts to a blindside flanker while All Black Jerome Kaino makes a timely return to No 8 after his wobbly knee took him out of last week’s loss to the Reds.
“He has impressed guys in our wider training group with his whole attitude and I think he is someone we are guaranteed to get some excitement from,” Lam said of Chamberlain.
“He brings ruggedness and freshness. They (the Hurricanes) have quality players to select from (for their back row). That’s what makes a player and makes a team.”
Lam was happy to at least have Kaino available to him as the All Black shook off his knee injury to front.
“When you lose four out of the five and he’s the last one, it’s certainly pleasing to have him there.”
Brothers Jay and Ali Williams start as a locking combination and Tevita Mailau is back at tighthead prop in other changes to the pack.
Dean Budd will cover lock and loose forward on the bench where Peter Saili provides additional back row cover as the Blues look vulnerable against an area of real strength in the Hurricanes.
While the bulk of the forward changes have been enforced by injuries, Wulf’s move to fullback comes at the expense of Paul Williams who drops to the bench.
Rene Ranger is back from his ban to play on the right win as the Blues look to field a back three capable of matching the speedy and elusive Canes trio.
“We need some spark and we looked at who would be better off the bench and who would be better to start,” Lam said of the move to play Wulf at fullback.
He had played there in two of the preseason matches.
“He has all the attributes to play that position. He’s great under the high ball, a strong runner and he’s a senior player with lots of experience. He will be fine back there,” said Lam.
Ranger faces an NZRU disciplinary hearing next week and after being stood down by the Blues last weekend, but they have decided to get him back into action against the Hurricanes.
“It’s all business as usual until that’s all done.”
Jimmy Gopperth gets to start against his old team with Tasesa Lavea again troubled by hamstring problems.
The fifth-placed Blues are desperate to beat the top-placed Canes.
“It’s a big game against the form team and we need a win,” said Lam.
Meanwhile, Hurricanes coach Colin Cooper has sprung a surprise by leaving fit-again All Black Piri Weepu on his bench and electing to retain Alby Mathewson and Willie Ripia as his halfback-first five combination for Friday’s match.
Cooper made three changes all told to his starting XV, but the one he didn’t make will probably be the one Canes fans will be talking about the most.
Weepu has played mostly at No 10 this season for the Canes, but now Ripia has settled into the role with a run of starts, it had been expected Weepu would return to starting duty this week at halfback.
But Cooper has decided not to tinker too greatly with the combination that produced the breakout eight-try display against the Brumbies last weekend.
His only backline change was a forced one, with standout fullback Cory Jane ruled out with a calf injury, which sees Zac Guildford brought on to the right wing and the versatile Tamati Ellison move back to No 15.
The only alteration to the pack sees All Black Jason Eaton returned to the second row, with Bryn Evans dropping back to the bench. Victor Vito retains his spot at No 6 with Karl Lowe still not fit after picking up a calf strain late last week. Ged Robinson slots in as backup hooker with Dane Coles ruled out with ligament damage.
BLUES: 15 Rudi Wulf, 14 Rene Ranger, 13 Anthony Tuitavake, 12 Isaia Toeava, 11 Joe Rokocoko, 10 Jimmy Gopperth, 9 Taniela Moa, 8 Jerome Kaino, 7 JTom Chamberlain, 6 Kurtis Haiu, 5 Ali Williams, 4 Jay Williams, 3 Tevita Mailau, 2 Keven Mealamu, 1 Tony Woodcock. Reserves: 16 Tom McCartney, 17 Charlie Faumuina, 18, Dean Budd, 19 Peter Saili, 20 Grayson Hart, 21 Michael Hobbs, 22 Paul Williams.
HURRICANES: 15 Tamati Ellison, 14 Zac Guildford, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Ma’a Nonu, 11 David Smith, 10 Willie Ripia, 9 Alby Mathewson, 8 Rodney So’oialo (captain), 7 Scott Waldrom, 6 Victor Vito, 5 Jason Eaton, 4 Jeremy Thrush,3 Neemia Tialata, 2 Andrew Hore, 1 John Schwalger. Reserves: 16 Ged Robinson, 17 Jacob Ellison, 18 Bryn Evans, 19 Api Naikatini, 20 Piri Weepu, 21 Jason Kawau, 22 Robert Fruean.Tweet