Patrick McKendry

Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

Rugby: Piutau will be fullback for Blues

One piece of the Blues' backline jigsaw puzzle has fitted into place, with coach John Kirwan yesterday saying Charles Piutau will play at fullback for the early part of the season at least.

Piutau will wear the No15 jersey against the Chiefs in Rotorua tomorrow in what is the Blues' final pre-season game and also, fitness permitting, for the first match proper against the Highlanders in Dunedin a week on Saturday and beyond.

The 22-year-old burst onto the scene as a fullback for the Blues in 2012 but he was used on the wing for the All Blacks last season and made an extremely good fist of it, particularly on the November tour against difficult opponents in France and England.

With the All Blacks also needing centre cover, it was thought Piutau could spend time in the midfield for the Blues this year as Kirwan juggled the talents of Benji Marshall, Ma'a Nonu, Francis Saili, Jackson Willison and George Moala, but the coach said fullback was Piutau's spot for now.

"Everyone's talking about Charles at centre and we'd like to give him some time there but when you're reintegrating guys in late they need to be comfortable with what they are doing before you start changing them," Kirwan said. "He's comfortable at fullback, he loves it, he's a talented boy, he's in our leadership group, so let's get him on the paddock and worry about variations later on."

George Moala's selection at centre for the Chiefs match could also be significant. He was impressive in the Blues' first trial game against the Hurricanes and, in Nonu's absence through injury, could find a home in the midfield alongside Saili for the early part of the season.

In announcing his team yesterday, Kirwan said there were few certainties in terms of selections, insisting Marshall and Chris Noakes were in a battle for the No10 jersey. Baden Kerr is not available for tomorrow because of a hand injury.

- APNZ

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