Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

Rugby: West in, Tuipulotu out for Blues

Ihaia West has been recalled while Patrick Tuipulotu has been dropped to the bench. Photo / Getty
Ihaia West has been recalled while Patrick Tuipulotu has been dropped to the bench. Photo / Getty

Ihaia West is back in the No10 jersey for the Blues, but coach Tana Umaga has again made several bold selection changes for the match against the Hurricanes by dropping lock Patrick Tuipulotu and moving Rene Ranger to the right wing.

Umaga has stuck with his policy of shaking things up following last week's six changes. This week he has made nine and today said Tuipulotu's demotion to the reserves bench - he is replaced in the No4 jersey by loose forward Steven Luatua - was down to form.

"It's about rewarding performance," Umaga said. "Patrick would be the first to say that he didn't play his best game [against the Crusaders] and it's tough for Pat because he hasn't had a lot of rugby in the last 12 months and has played every game for us [this season].

"We know what we're going to get with Pat coming off the bench now - a motivated Patrick is good for us."

Charlie Faumuina will start at tighthead prop after impressing off the bench in the 28-13 defeat to the Crusaders and should help his team's scrum which fell apart in Christchurch and is likely to be targeted by the Hurricanes.

No8 Akira Ioane will start his first game of the season, with Bryn Hall recalled at halfback alongside West, and Male Sa'u starting at centre which pushes Ranger to the wing.

"Rene is coming back from a long lay-off," Umaga said. "At centre he hasn't been getting the touches that he would like or we would like. With our game plan the way it is and our wings getting a lot of touches of the ball, that's the thinking behind it. Rene Ranger getting the ball in his hands is good for us and good for him."

The dropping of Tuipulotu after the Blues were destroyed up front by the Crusaders is likely to send a message to the entire squad that below-par performances will not be tolerated by Umaga. The selections of Ioane and Faumuina also strengthen the pack considerably and with Hall and West running the show again the backline is likely to play with more composure against the Hurricanes.

Umaga admitted his team didn't cope with the pressure the Crusaders exerted and that his players had to be able to adapt quicker.

"At stages we will be put under pressure and it's how we deal with the pressure on the field," he said. "It's great to be able to look at that after the but it's about how we make the shifts on the field. We've been working hard at that."

Skipper Jerome Kaino said being successful again at Eden Park after his team's round one win over the Highlanders was crucial.

"That's part of our motivation this year - to get people believing in Blues rugby again," he said. "We have done a lot of talking in the past and so for us it's about getting out there on our home pitch and getting the results."

The Blues team to play the Hurricanes at Eden Park on Friday, kick-off 7.35pm:

Lolagi Visinia, Rene Ranger, Male Sa'u, George Moala, Tevita Li, Ihaia West, Bryn Hall, Akira Ioane, Blake Gibson, Jerome Kaino (c), Josh Bekhuis, Steven Luatua, Charlie Faumuina, James Parsons, Ofa Tu'ungafasi.

Reserves: Quentin MacDonald, Nic Mayhew, Sione Mafileo, Patrick Tuipulotu, Kara Pryor, Billy Guyton, Matt McGahan, Melani Nanai.

- NZ Herald

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