Patrick McKendry

Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

Blues' Reds assignment becomes tougher

Blues player George Moala. Photo / Richard Robinson
Blues player George Moala. Photo / Richard Robinson

What is always a tough assignment - playing the Reds at their Suncorp Stadium fortress - has just been made tougher for the Blues following the disciplining of another player for breaching team protocols.

Sir John Kirwan today revealed that he dropped wing George Moala from the squad for breaking team rules, a decision which follows the standing down of second-five Francis Saili, who appeared in court on Monday charged with driving while disqualified.

Saili, 22, who has impressed in the Blues midfield, will play a part off the reserves bench in Brisbane, but Moala, also 22, won't travel with the squad.

"It's a big part of our team culture, honesty, so he won't be travelling,'' Kirwan said. "What we can control are our team protocols and we're just enforcing them.''

Albert Nikoro will make his starting debut for the Blues in Moala's place.

Jackson Willison will start at second-five, with Rene Ranger at centre.

"It's exciting ... It's an opportunity for Alby, and Francis will get some game time and he'll be able to get out there and enjoy it and show the team that he's sorry for what happened,'' Kirwan added.

It is another disruption which the Blues don't need at an important time. At the halfway stage of the competition they are in the remarkable position of second place overall - first in the New Zealand conference - and have picked up four victories. At the same point last year they had tasted success only once before stuttering to a 12th-place finish.

A good performance against the Reds, who looked in ominous form in beating the defending champion Chiefs in Hamilton two weeks ago before last weekend's draw with the table-topping Brumbies in Brisbane, could set Kirwan's men up nicely for a difficult run home which includes matches against the Crusaders, Brumbies, Chiefs and a trip to South Africa.

Kirwan is aware of the threats the Reds possess. Although Ewen McKenzie's men are in fourth place overall, Kirwan believes they are playing the best rugby of any team in the competition, which is being helped by the dominance of halfback Will Genia and first-five Quade Cooper.

"If you relax on Genia they will break you and if you relax on Cooper they will break you. They've got a kicking game we need to control and a bit of a New Zealand style pick-and-go game where they maul and really try to wear you down.''

Former All Blacks lock Anthony Boric is unavailable due to a neck injury - a worry for him given his history with problems in this area. Boric had surgery on his neck last year, a procedure which helped lead to his decision to play for Japanese club Mitsubishi after the completion of the Blues' season.

"He just had another knock,'' Kirwan said. "He's seeing the specialist this week to give him another check to make sure he's okay. He got a couple of knocks last week, it's just part of his process coming back.''

Asked if Boric was out for only one week, Kirwan replied: "Yes, one week at his stage.''

Counties Manukau lock Ronald Raaymakers has been included in the match-day squad for the first time as cover.

* Blues team to play Reds at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane on Friday, kick-off 9.40pm NZT is: Charles Piutau, Frank Halai, Rene Ranger, Jackson Willison, Albert Nikoro, Chris Noakes, Piri Weepu, Peter Saili, Luke Braid, Steven Luatua, Ali Williams, Culum Retallick, Angus Ta'avao, James Parsons, Tom McCartney. Reserves: Keven Mealamu, Ofa Tu'ungafasi, Ronald Raaymakers, Brendon O'Connor, Jamison Gibson-Park, Baden Kerr, Francis Saili.

- APNZ

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