Patrick McKendry is a rugby and boxing writer for the Herald.

Rugby: Umaga to miss All Black pair but sticks with same backline

Rene Ranger will lead an unchanged Blues backline against the Chiefs. Photo / Getty
Rene Ranger will lead an unchanged Blues backline against the Chiefs. Photo / Getty

The Blues will board their bus for Hamilton and their challenging assignment against the Chiefs without their injured All Black forwards Patrick Tuipulotu and Jerome Kaino but, on the plus side, Tana Umaga has been able to name an unchanged backline for the first time this season.

Umaga, in his first year coaching at this level, has been keen on tinkering with his line-up, particularly his backs, but this week the only changes are injured enforced.

Lock Hoani Matenga will make his Super Rugby debut at Waikato Stadium on Friday night in place of Tuipulotu, who played on with a fractured hand in the 24-16 win over the Jaguares last weekend but who will now be out for about a fortnight.

The other change to the starting XV comes at loosehead prop, with Sam Prattley named in the No1 jersey instead of Nic Mayhew, who was ruled out with a knee injury after a head-first tackle by lock Tomas Lavanini at North Harbour Stadium.

Umaga was today reticent about commenting on that and some of the other tactics used by the Argentines last weekend, but confirmed he and his coaching staff had contacted Sanzaar officials about them. No Jaguares player was cited despite Lavanini's dangerous looking tackle and two incidents where knees were used on prone Blues players Lolagi Visinia and Ihaia West.

"The safety of our players is paramount," Umaga said. "We did talk to them about it. We'll see where it goes from there. They're aware of it, I think everyone is now, it's a bit of a hot topic, so I'm sure they'll act on it."

Umaga's greater priority is to attempt to coach his team to a victory against a high-flying Chiefs team leading the competition and earning plaudits all over the world with their ambitious, free-flowing attack. He referred to them as "probably the hottest team in Super Rugby at the moment" .

For that he has stuck with his backline which did the job, just, against the Jaguares. Piers Francis has recovered from a knock to his funny bone to partner Rene Ranger in the midfield, Umaga happy with the way the Englishman took to his first match at this level.

The pair will be called on to attempt to contain the attacking talents of second-five Charlie Ngatai, who scored four tries against the Force, and Umaga will hope the lapses of concentration which affected fullback Visinia and wing Tevita Li against the Jaguares don't strike again at the headquarters of a team who have gone to new levels this season.

"They are probably what everybody wants to be in terms of culture and commitment to each other. I think every team is aware of that and trying to replicate that. We know they will come out motivated. They've got plenty of confidence and are running on a high. For us, we've just got to try to match that and do what we do and enjoy it."

Asked if the key to victory was denying the Chiefs the ball for 80 minutes, Umaga replied: "If we don't run out of puff. That's probably a big thing. They're very good at looking after the ball and they can sustain that throughout the game."

Umaga said regular skipper Kaino was recovering well from his shoulder problem suffered almost a fortnight ago against the Reds.

Blues team to play the Chiefs at Waikato Stadium on Friday:

Lolagi Visinia, Rieko Ioane, Rene Ranger, Piers Francis, Tevita Li, Ihaia West, Bryn Hall, Steven Luatua, Blake Gibson, Joe Edwards, Josh Bekhuis, Hoani Matenga, Charlie Faumuina, James Parsons (c), Sam Prattley.

Reserves: Quentin MacDonald, Namatahi Waa, Ofa Tu'ungafasi, Akira Ioane, Kara Pryor, Billy Guyton, Matt McGahan, George Moala.

- NZ Herald

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