Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

Rugby: Blues bench Hall and West

Bryn Hall excelled against the Highlanders but will be on the bench against the Crusaders. Photo / Getty
Bryn Hall excelled against the Highlanders but will be on the bench against the Crusaders. Photo / Getty

The dust has only just settled on the Blues' opening night triumph over the Highlanders but coach Tana Umaga is in tinkering mode already, swapping out halfback Bryn Hall and first-five Ihaia West, two men who played with great skill and commitment against the defending champions, for a new combination to play the Crusaders.

The Blues haven't won in Christchurch since 2004 - at the old Lancaster Park and thanks mostly to Carlos Spencer - and they will travel this time with the inexperienced Billy Guyton and Matt McGahan named in the crucial inside half positions, Umaga deciding that giving his whole squad a run is more important than keeping a winning team together.

A couple of weeks ago Umaga, in his first year in the job after replacing John Kirwan, said Hall and West were the incumbents, but now they find themselves on the reserves bench. Guyton, a former Crusaders wider training group player, was good when he replaced the excellent Hall for the final 20 minutes at Eden Park last week, with McGahan - yet to start a game at this level - playing only the final two minutes.

Long-suffering Blues supporters might feel the changes are a return to the bad old days under Kirwan and before him Pat Lam, two men who didn't seem to know their best XV, or for that matter their best match-day squad of 23 from week to week. Continual tinkering ensued, the selection changes playing havoc with combinations.

Assistant coach Alistair Rogers today said the replacing of Hall and West was all part of a plan decided upon before the season began.

"It's a good opportunity," Rogers said. "That's how we're seeing it. It's a tough competition and we're building a squad and we're going to need that squad. It's not about anything other than building depth and giving opportunities to others.

"We'd spoken about it [changing combinations for second game before season began]. Obviously you have to be flexible about your thinking, but after discussions within the coaching group it was decided that it was the right thing. This is the right team and we've picked it to do a job.

"Obviously some individuals will be disappointed, but it's about the team. Hopefully we've done enough work with those boys and they've been really good, they've been about to knock that disappointment on the head and do what's best for us.

"We've set the expectations and we've picked the guys because we believe they're the best for this particular week."

In other changes, Quentin MacDonald replaces last week's captain James Parsons at hooker, with former league player Matt Duffie starting at fullback instead of Lolagi Visinia.

The Crusaders, who lost 27-21 to the Chiefs in Christchurch last weekend, are likely to have the relatively inexperienced Richie Mo'unga at No10, but veteran Andy Ellis is almost certain to start at halfback.

Blues team to play the Crusaders in Christchurch on Friday, kick-off 7.35pm:

Matt Duffie, Melani Nanai, Rene Ranger, George Moala, Tevita Li, Matt McGahan, Billy Guyton, Steven Luatua, Blake Gibson, Jerome Kaino (c), Josh Bekhuis, Patrick Tuipulotu, Sione Mafileo, Quentin MacDonald, Ofa Tu'ungafasi.

Reserves: James Parsons, Sam Prattley, Charlie Faumuina, Akira Ioane, Kara Pryor, Bryn Hall, Ihaia West, Male Sa'u.

- NZ Herald

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