Rugby: Blues roll out big guns for Chiefs

The Blues Charlie Faumuina and Piri Weepu during team training last month. Photo / Greg Bowker
The Blues Charlie Faumuina and Piri Weepu during team training last month. Photo / Greg Bowker

Charlie Faumuina, Steven Luatua and Piri Weepu have been named in a strong Blues team to face the Chiefs in their final pre-season hit-out in Rotorua on Friday.

Faumuina and Luatua will be integrated back into the team and join fellow All Black teammates Francis Saili, Frank Halai and Charles Piutau in the starting XV, while Weepu has recovered from knee surgery in the off-season to start at halfback.

The trio are expected to get through 40 minutes before being substituted in the second half.

"It has been difficult for the All Blacks that have come in late. We're just trying to get them into some contact and get them back playing,'' said Blues head coach Sir John Kirwan.

"I think we'll see similar to what we saw from Francis and Charles last week in their first game back, just getting out there and having a hit around and we'll then expect a bit more from them the week after.''

Kirwan said Faumuina, Luatua and Weepu were chomping at the bit.

"They can't wait but we've been holding them back a wee bit,'' Kirwan said.

"It's been more about their health than anything else, especially the younger guys like Steven. He's really keen to go and I know Charlie is excited too, he's in our leadership group so he can't wait.

"Piri is obviously keen to play, he's just one of those guys who loves playing so I think he'll also be ready.''

Benji Marshall will continue in the number 10 jersey while George Moala has been named at centre for the third successive week, with Kirwan impressed by his development.

"I think George is going to have a special year,'' Kirwan said.

"He's a centre / wing cover and he is playing centre and we're going to keep playing him there so he gets used to that role. I'm also very happy with Albert Nikoro at fullback, I think he's coming along really well.

"Lolagi is getting better every week so from a combination point of view we need to make sure we've got a full squad and we can cover something if it happens and I'm feeling confident that those guys can do that.''

After a disappointing 33-12 loss to the Waratahs in Sydney last week, Kirwan said he was expecting to see a marked improvement against the back-to-back Super Rugby champions on Friday night.

"It was a good hit-out for us last week, the Waratahs were better organised so this week I just want to see our organisation coming into it and really just a bit more zing.

"It should be a bit more game-like, we've got to start preparing mentally as well. The pre-season is over _ this is our final trial and we just need to make sure that we come out of it with confidence to start the season.

"I'm not worried about the result but it would be good to play well and walk off the field knowing we're ready to go for the year.''

Blues team to play the Chiefs at Rotorua International Stadium on Friday, kick-off 6pm is: Charles Piutau, Frank Halai, George Moala, Francis Saili, Lolagi Visinia, Benji Marshall, Piri Weepu, Peter Saili, Luke Braid (c), Steven Luatua, Tom Donnelly, Liaki Moli, Charlie Faumuina, James Parsons, Sam Prattley. Reserves: Ofa Tu'ungafasi, Greg Pleasants-Tate, Tom McCartney, Angus Ta'avao, William Lloyd, Patrick Tuipulotu, Kane Barrett, Jordan Manihera, Brendon O'Connor, Bryn Hall, Chris Noakes, Simon Hickey, Jackson Willison, Tevita Li, Albert Nikoro.

- APNZ

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