Wynne Gray

Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

Rugby: Much at stake in final clash

The Blues are aiming for a fitting farewell for Ali Williams (pictured), Anthony Boric and Rene Ranger.  Photo / Getty Images
The Blues are aiming for a fitting farewell for Ali Williams (pictured), Anthony Boric and Rene Ranger. Photo / Getty Images

What's on it? How much time have you got to dwell on the Blues' final match tonight against their regular Chiefs rivals.

Both sides can fill pages on their objectives for this clash at Eden Park as the Blues close their season and the Chiefs prime themselves for the playoff section of the tournament.

There is also a small matter of selection for the Rugby Championship, which is nudging closer.

The Blues are playing for contracts next year, seeking an end to an exasperating five-game losing streak and aiming for a fitting farewell performance for Ali Williams, Anthony Boric and Rene Ranger, as well as hoping to reward their supporters.

Reviews on the side's work will start next week and individual performances will be assessed as coach John Kirwan and his offsiders Graham Henry, Mick Byrne and Grant Doorey mull over their next campaign.

The Chiefs need to restore their conviction and systems after being flogged last round by the Crusaders.

The playoffs start next week and the Chiefs need to recover the menacing accuracy that was so evident before the Super 15 broke for the June test window.

Liam Messam returns from injury to lead his men with a change of impact expected from fellow forwards Tanerau Latimer and Toby Smith and new backs Andrew Horrell, Robbie Robinson, Lelia Masaga and Tim Nanai-Williams.

A head knock took Sam Cane out of starting consideration while Ben Afeaki damaged his back at training so Ben Tameifuna kept his place.

Coach Dave Rennie was keen to get Horrell back into the mix and switching Robinson to the wing gave the Chiefs extra kicking variety without any loss of speed. He put the heat on Bundee Ah Kee and Tawera Kerr-Barlow after last week.

Kirwan and his squad have been trying to get themselves sorted after two disappointing defeats in Africa. It had been a tough last section of the tournament and they were upset they had not made the playoffs.

"Yeah, we would have all loved to have made the playoffs, but it hasn't happened," Kirwan said. "But we've played some great football and are heading in the right direction, so we need to go out and play for pride and show people we are a force to be reckoned with."

No8 Peter Saili was still troubled by flu yesterday but the staff think he will be fine to suit up tonight.

The Blues have chosen 35 players, including tonight's debut for left wing Lolagi Visinia this season in a campaign that stands at six wins and nine defeats. Better than the four wins and 12 defeats last year, but there is still a long way to go.

Victory tonight would arrest the five-game slump and leave the Blues with more optimism for 2014.

Blues v Chiefs

Eden Park, 7.35 tonight

Blues: Charles Piutau, Frank Halai, Rene Ranger, Francis Saili, Lolagi Visinia, Baden Kerr, Piri Weepu, P. Saili/B. O'Connor, Luke Braid, Kane Barrett, Anthony Boric, Ali Williams (c), Angus Ta'avao, Keven Mealamu, Sam Prattley
Reserves: James Parsons, Ofa Tu'ungafasi, Liaki Moli, O'Connor/Sean Polwart, Jamison Gibson-Park, Jackson Willison, Marty McKenzie.

Chiefs: Andrew Horrell, Lelia Masaga, T. Nanai-Williams, Bundee Aki, Robbie Robinson, Aaron Cruden, T. Kerr-Barlow, Matt Vant Leven, Tanerau Latimer, Liam Messam, Brodie Retallick, Craig Clarke (c), Ben Tameifuna, Hika Elliot, Toby Smith
Reserves: Mahonri Schwalger, Pauliasi Manu, Michael Fitzgerald, Sam Cane, Augustine Pulu, Gareth Anscombe, Asaeli Tikoirotuma.

- NZ Herald

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