Rugby: Piutau returns, ABs trio to start for Crusaders

Charles Piutau. Photo /Getty Images
Charles Piutau. Photo /Getty Images

All Blacks utility Charles Piutau will make his return from injury when starting on the left wing for the Blues in Saturday's Super Rugby match against the Crusaders in Christchurch.

Piutau has been sidelined for two months with a knee injury, and his return is the only change to the starting lineup for the match.

Blues coach Sir John Kirwan said it was an easy decision to inject Piutau straight back into the run-on side.

"He's good enough, he's been injured but he's back fit and he's done all his contact and return to play stuff. He's an All Black and an important member of our team and we just want to get him out there.

"We've decided to put him on the left wing with the littlest pressure on him for the high ball catch. He probably won't last the whole football game and George Moala's been playing really well so it's just a matter of sharing that up and he's ready to go so it's exciting."

The Blues will face an All Black-laden Crusaders side with Kieran Read, Dan Carter and Israel Dagg all being named to start.

Read returns to number eight while Carter will play in the 12 jersey with Colin Slade retaining the first five-eighth spot. Dagg has recovered from injury to take the 15 jersey.

Nemani Nadolo has returned from international duties in Fiji to take the left wing and Kieron Fonotia will start on the right wing.

In the forwards, Ben Funnell and Owen Franks have taken starting spots in place of Corey Flynn and Nepo Laulala, who will be ready to inject some energy off the bench.

Veteran Blues hooker Keven Mealamu will be the first player to bring up 150 games for the Blues when starting the match at hooker.

The talismanic hooker has already racked up 160 Super Rugby appearances including his season with the Chiefs in 2000, but will play his 150th game for the Blues against the Red and Blacks.

The All Blacks centurion is only two matches away from equalling the record held by Nathan Sharpe for the most Super Rugby appearances (162), and is second only to Colin Meads in first class games after playing his 350th match against the Western Force on Saturday.

"He's such an important part of the team," Blues head coach Sir John Kirwan said.

"He's our matai and what we stand for. He's been around for 150 games but I think he'll leave a huge legacy when he does decide to move on. It's a special moment for him and his family - 150 games for one franchise is incredible and hopefully we can help him celebrate that with a win."

Halfback Piri Weepu has been ruled out of the match after a scan yesterday revealed a screw in the ankle he broke in 2010 has become loose.

The Blues have not beaten the Crusaders in Christchurch since 2004 and must secure a win if they are to have any chance of making the playoffs.

15. Lolagi Visinia, 14. Frank Halai,13. Pita Ahki, 12. Ma'a Nonu, 11. Charles Piutau, 10. Ihaia West, 9. Bryn Hall, 8. Jerome Kaino, 7. Luke Braid (C), 6. Steven Luatua, 5. Tom Donnelly, 4. Patrick Tuipulotu, 3. Charlie Faumuina, 2. Keven Mealamu, 1. Tony Woodcock

Reserves: 16. James Parsons, 17. Ofa Tu'ungafasi, 18. Sam Prattley, 19. Hayden Triggs, 20. Peter Saili, 21. Jamison Gibson-Park, 22. Francis Saili, 23. George Moala.

15. Israel Dagg, 14. Kieron Fonotia, 13. Ryan Crotty (VC), 12. Dan Carter, 11. Nemani Nadolo, 10. Colin Slade, 9. Andy Ellis, 8. Kieran Read (C), 7. Matt Todd, 6. Jordan Taufua, 5. Samuel Whitelock, 4. Dominic Bird, 3. Owen Franks, 2. Ben Funnell, 1. Wyatt Crockett.

Reseves: 16. Corey Flynn, 17. Joe Moody, 18. Nepo Laulala, 19. Jimmy Tupou, 20. Luke Whitelock, 21. Willi Heinz, 22. Tom Taylor, 23. Johnny McNicholl.

- With Newstalk ZB

- NZ Herald

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