Rugby: Blues' hopes rest with rookies

By Kris Shannon

Auckland Blues Charles Piutau. Photo / Greg Bowker
Auckland Blues Charles Piutau. Photo / Greg Bowker

A must-win match is when a team most relies on seasoned pros, but John Kirwan is backing a young playmaking pair to pull through for the Blues.

With regulars Piri Weepu (ribs) and Chris Noakes (thigh) having returned to New Zealand through injury, the Blues' chances of making the Super 15 playoffs rest with a couple of rookies.

Halfback Jamison Gibson-Park and first five-eighth Baden Kerr will be trusted with running the show in Bloemfontein on Sunday morning (NZT), with the Blues needing to beat the Cheetahs to remain a chance of snatching a wildcard spot.

By the time the Blues host the Chiefs for their final regular season hit-out, both Weepu and Noakes could return, but Kirwan thinks Gibson-Park and Kerr will do just fine in the interim.

"They've both continued to improve all year," Kirwan said of the pair, who have made 19 appearances between them. "We thought, perhaps at the beginning of the season, that they might have been a year away, but in this tournament that doesn't happen.

"They've both trained very confidently this year and Jamo's a confident little man anyway."

Gibson-Park replaced Weepu during the Blues' last-minute loss to the Sharks last weekend and Kirwan was impressed with what he saw. The coach also thought Kerr's kicking game could be a key on Sunday considering the match is being played on the high veldt.

"Leading and driving the game plan around will be their challenge," Kirwan said. "It's really a matter of them getting over the nerves and playing a pretty good game of footy."

Blues v Cheetahs
Bloemfontein on Sunday morning (NZT):

Charles Piutau, Frank Halai, Jackson Willison, Francis Saili, Rene Ranger, Baden Kerr, Jamison Gibson-Park, Peter Saili, Luke Braid, Steven Luatua, Ali Williams (c), Anthony Boric, Angus Ta'avao, James Parsons, Sam Prattley. Reserves: Keven Mealamu, Ofa Tu'ungafasi, Culum Retallick, Brendon O'Connor, Wayne Ngaluafe, Marty McKenzie, George Moala.


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