Wynne Gray

Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

Rugby: Blues freshened up for Rebels match

The Blues have made a clutch of changes but coach John Kirwan is certain there will not be any mirror image in Super 15 performance tomorrow.

They have been in a good space in the last few weeks but with some fatigue and niggles in the group, Kirwan has picked some new players and made a few positional shifts.

Tim Perry, Quentin MacDonald, Anthony Boric and Brendon O'Connor have been brought into the pack while George Moala returns to the left wing. There are also shuffles with Francis Saili and Rene Ranger each moving in a place in midfield.

Memories of multiple changes and defeat against the Bulls in the third round are still a little fresh. However, Kirwan is confident the whole squad is more advanced and better equipped to deal with the Rebels tomorrow at Eden Park.

"I'll take the rap for that," he said of the loss to the Bulls. "I think we are a lot further down the track as a team and have had a lot more trainings under the belt.

The changes are a bit more subtle and the boys have been in there and doing it.

"For me it is very different. We need to make sure we have a huge game so guys need to bring fresh legs and fresh enthusiasm," Kirwan said.

"Some of our guys have got high k's and it's important we give them a bit of a break," he said.

The visitors, who have won just two games this season, have been hit by further problems with troubled Wallaby Kurtley Beale stood down again after breaking a drinking ban imposed on him.

Beale missed a month's play after hitting several teammates during a bout of drinking in South Africa. He returned from the bench with a strong display last week against the Chiefs and then went out drinking with teammates.

His immediate future and chances of playing against the touring British and Irish Lions next month will form part of an Australian Rugby Union investigation. Kirwan could not conceal his smile about Beale's ban while he warned about the strong challenge from the Rebels, who now would have one fewer x-factor players.

Former skipper Keven Mealamu and midfield back Jackson Willison had slight injuries and needed time out while Luke Braid had a huge workload at openside and deserved a spell.

Steven Luatua has recovered from the ankle strain he suffered against the Stormers while Ranger would return to his preferred position at centre.

If the Rebels thought the Blues would underestimate them, Kirwan said they would be well off the mark.

- NZ Herald

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