Rugby: Marshall to start in Sydney

Benji Marshall will play his second match for the Blues after being named to start against the Waratahs. Photo / Getty
Benji Marshall will play his second match for the Blues after being named to start against the Waratahs. Photo / Getty

Benji Marshall will start in his return to Sydney with the Blues, having been named at first five-eighth against the Waratahs on Friday night.

The preseason trial at Allianz Stadium will also see a trio of All Blacks enjoy their first run-out, but it is Marshall's second match for his new side that will draw the most attention.

While there was considerable hype around the former West Tiger's return to the city where he played league for 10 years, coach Sir John Kirwan thought Marshall was taking it all in his stride.

"This weekend's a little bit about Benji going back to Sydney,'' Kirwan said. "Everyone's saying it's a big week for him but he loves big weeks so for us it's just getting him out there.

"He's had his first game so it would be nice to get him back out there with a bit more pressure on and just say, 'go for it, get into it and enjoy it'. Last week was a good start and this week we just want him to keep building on it.''

Barnstorming wing Frank Halai will start on the right flank, while livewires Francis Saili and Charles Piutau will both come off the bench in the second half.

"Frank's been with us for three weeks now so he's transitioned right in and will be starting and playing 40 minutes,'' Kirwan said. "Francis Saili will be playing 20 minutes and so will Charles Piutau, so we're looking to transition the All Blacks back in.

"The hard thing for them is they've been away while the other boys have had six weeks of training in their legs. Those two have come in really fit and are ready to go but we just need to make sure that we protect them early.''

Former All Black lock Tom Donnelly will pull on the Blues jersey for the first time, joining an ever-improving Liaki Moli in the second row, while captain Luke Braid will get his first opportunity to lead the side this year at openside flanker.

"Tom's been great for us,'' Kirwan said. "We wanted to buy experience and someone who loves studying lineouts and he's certainly delivered that.''

Ahead of the game, Kirwan was less interested with the Waratahs and more concerned that his side builds on last week's performance against the Hurricanes.

"We want a better understanding and a better execution this week. It's just about building towards the season. We don't want to see everything just yet.

"The good thing about last week was the stuff that we hadn't trained too hard on was not evident and the stuff we had been training on was so we just need to make sure that we keep building.''

Blues team to face the Waratahs at Allianz Stadium on Friday night:

Albert Nikoro, Frank Halai, George Moala, Jackson Willison, Tevita Li, Benji Marshall, Bryn Hall, Peter Saili, Luke Braid, Kane Barrett, Tom Donnelly, Liaki Moli, Angus Ta'avao, James Parsons, Sam Prattley. Reserves: Greg Pleasants-Tate, Tom McCartney, Ofa Tu'ungafasi, William Lloyd, Patrick Tuipulotu, Jordan Manihera, Brendon O'Connor, Sonatane Takulua, Chris Noakes, Simon Hickey, Francis Saili, Lolagi Visinia, Baden Kerr, Charles Piutau.

- APNZ

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