Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

Rugby: Match build-up heavy on mystery

Interest centres on Rene Ranger's allegiance and the Crusaders' talk about reworking their style.

Blues' centre Rene Ranger admits he is open to overseas offers.  Photo / APN
Blues' centre Rene Ranger admits he is open to overseas offers. Photo / APN

Mystery hovers over the Blues and Crusaders as they prepare for their Super 15 duel tomorrow at Eden Park.

Rene Ranger's allegiance hovers about the hosts while questions circulate about a change of style for the visiting competition standard-bearers.

The Blues centre admitted he was open to overseas offers but had not signed any deal as he still retained his dream of adding to his three All Black caps.

"I have still signed with the NZRU for a year, still playing for Northland and just hope to have a good season," he said.

There is greater immediate interest in his midfield battle with Robbie Fruean as the Blues look to consolidate their opening win and the Crusaders shake off the rust of a last-round bye.

Fruean brings a huge physical presence and is a damaging attacker but has yet to persuade the national selectors his workrate is high enough for the test arena.

Ranger gets involved and produces some freakish work but has also been too inconsistent since his 2010 season in the All Blacks.

Centre is the position already provoking interest after Richard Kahui's decision to shift to Japan, Tamati Ellison's shoulder surgery and Conrad Smith's ideas about a sabbatical.

Curiosity will also focus on whether there is any discernible shift in the Crusaders' patterns this season. They have spoken about reworking the style which has got them to the playoffs - but no title - in the four seasons under coach Todd Blackadder.

They have 10 All Blacks in their opening selection and it is unlikely they will deviate far from a serious test of the Blues pack. Set-piece is a work in progress for the Blues and a Crusaders pack with Matt Todd as their only uncapped forward will search for a strong impact in those areas.

Dominance and width have been the Crusaders' reworked calls as Aaron Mauger and Tabai Matson arrive with their new approach to expressive backplay.

"For years they have won through attrition, now they are talking and hinting about expansion," said Blues coach John Kirwan.

"I think they are trying to change their game. We have seen some different stuff from them and we need to be ready for it."

The Blues should give up if they were not ready for a contest which will be just under test match intensity.

"I don't think they will go wide often, I think they will mix it up," Kirwan predicted.

"What they are trying to do when they talk about changing their game is just having a bit more of an expansive game and what suits them.

"We need to be ready. Championship sides throw lots at you and we need to be ready for that, wide, through the middle, pick 'n' go and they are good at doing everything."

Getting back on to Eden Park was huge for the Blues coach after his playing deeds and a big deal for his young squad who had to keep expressing themselves.

The key was consistent preparation, Kirwan said.

"When you are nervous and uptight, the best thing you can do is just go and do something and that something in our world is actually training well."

Blues v Crusaders

Eden Park, 7.35pm tomorrow

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
Tom Taylor
Adam Whitelock
Robbie Fruean
Ryan Crotty
Israel Dagg
Dan Carter
Andy Ellis
Kieran Read (c)
Matt Todd
George Whitelock
Samuel Whitelock
Luke Romano
Owen Franks
Corey Flynn
Wyatt Crockett

Blues: Quentin MacDonald, Angus Ta'avao, Liaki Moli, Brendon O'Connor, Bryn Hall, Baden Kerr, Jackson Willison.

Crusaders: Ben Funnell, Joe Moody, Dominic Bird, Luke Whitelock, Willi Heinz, Tyler Bleyendaal, Tom Marshall.

- NZ Herald

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