Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

Rugby: Blues unchanged for Crusaders clash

Israel Dagg will play on the wing against the Blues. Photo / Getty Images
Israel Dagg will play on the wing against the Blues. Photo / Getty Images

An opening victory has ensured an unchanged Blues side while their Crusaders rivals have made some interesting backline tweaks for the start of their Super 15 campaign.

Regular All Black fullback Israel Dagg has been switched to the left wing to fill the vacancy caused by Zac Guildford's absence to deal with his alcohol issues.

The exciting Johnny McNicholl excelled in the ITM Cup and would have been a contender but he is injured.

So coach Todd Blackadder has decided to switch Dagg to the wing, where he started with the All Blacks, and shifted the utility talents of Tom Taylor to fullback.

Otherwise the Crusaders have rolled out a strong and predictable group for their first game this year on Friday at Eden Park.

All Blacks litter their selection with Matt Todd the only non-international in the pack while national captain Richie McCaw takes his sabbatical.

There are just four others in the backline, Ryan Crotty, Robbie Fruean, Adam Whitelock and Taylor, without test experience.

Centre Fruean, will play his 50th game for the franchise in what should be a bludgeoning physical battle with Blues centre Rene Ranger.

Blackadder has promised a new approach from his side this season in the search for a competition title which has eluded them since 2008.

Meanwhile Blues coach John Kirwan has rewarded his young group who began their campaign with a gutsy away win against the Hurricanes.

No 8 Peter Saili has recovered from his foot problem to allow Kirwan to name an unchanged side.

Blues: Charles Piutau, Frank Halai, Rene Ranger, Francis Saili, George Moala, Chris Noakes, Piri Weepu, Peter Saili, Luke Braid, Steven Luatua, Ali Williams (c), Culum Retallick, Charlie Faumuina, James Parsons, Tom McCartney. Reserves: Brendon O'Connor, Liaki Moli, Angus Ta'avao, Quentin MacDonald.

Crusaders: Tom Taylor, Adam Whitelock, Robbie Fruean, Ryan Crotty, Israel Dagg, Daniel Carter, Andy Ellis, Kieran Read (c), Matt Todd, George Whitelock, Sam Whitelock, Luke Romano, Owen Franks, Corey Flynn, Wyatt Crockett. Reserves: Ben Funnell, Joe Moody, Dominic Bird, Luke Whitelock, Willki Heinz, Tyler Bleyendaal, Tom Marshall.

- NZ Herald

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