BLUES COACH Pat Lam has surprisingly made just one change to his team for its match against the Chiefs in Hamilton on Friday.
It was thought Lam would wield the axe, particularly after the likes of Tom McCartney and David Raikuna failed to perform during the opening-round loss to the Crusaders, and promote halfback Piri Weepu to the run-on side.
Those two have kept their places in the starting XV, with the only change coming at tighthead prop, where Tevita Mailau replaces the injured Charlie Faumuina (knee).
Lam admits the loss of the latter is a big blow, but is confident Mailau is up to plugging the gap.
“Charlie is our number one tighthead at this stage and on the back of Tony Woodcock not being available, it’s a big hit for us,” he says.
“Tevita’s been with us for a while and he’s an experienced campaigner. He sits in the wings waiting for his chance and he works hard and so he’ll get his opportunity on Friday and I’m confident he’ll do a good job.”
Lam's only other changes come on the bench.
Interestingly, he has included young first five Gareth Anscombe in the reserves alongside Weepu.
Michael Hobbs hangs on to the No 10 jersey for now.
The other change to the bench sees Angus Ta'avao come in as prop cover. Like Anscombe, he is set for his first appearance at this level.
Lam has resisted the temptation to get Ma'a Nonu involved, with the All Blacks midfielder, just back from a stint of Japanese club rugby, set to be introduced on the looming trip to South Africa.
With both teams coming off losses in round one, Lam knows this game shapes as a crucial one.
“The key is we front –match the Chiefs intensity and better it, because these are two teams who lost their opening round, two teams who are desperate for a win and two teams that will really go for it, so I’m expecting a great clash,” he says.
Blues: Isaia Toeava, David Raikuna, Rene Ranger, Benson Stanley, Rudi Wulf, Michael Hobbs, Alby Mathewson; Jerome Kaino, Daniel Braid, Chris Lowrey, Ali Williams, Anthony Boric, Tevita Mailau, Keven Mealamu (c), Tom McCartney
Reserves: Pauliasi Manu, Angus Ta'avao, Brad Mika, Luke Braid, Piri Weepu, Gareth Anscombe, Sherwin Stowers
There are plenty of mouth-watering clashes on offer this weekend.
Which player was unlucky to miss out on the All Blacks’ wider training squad?
Gordon Tietjens’ success in sevens is unrivalled and should place him in the same coaching league as Sir Alex Ferguson.
All Blacks coach Steve Hansen named a 38-man training squad and there are a couple of oversights worth highlighting