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

Rugby: Francis in Blues' hot seat after West's demotion

Ihaia West's demotion to the bench gives Piers Francis the opportunity in the No10 jersey he has been waiting for. / Photo: Photosport
Ihaia West's demotion to the bench gives Piers Francis the opportunity in the No10 jersey he has been waiting for. / Photo: Photosport

Piers Francis has been given the opportunity he has been waiting for - the Blues No10 jersey following the demotion of Ihaia West to the reserves bench.

The challenge for Francis can hardly be bigger - to navigate the Blues around the AMI Stadium pitch against an unbeaten Crusaders team on Friday night, but the Englishman did well in the position late last season and will back himself to do the same again.

Coach Tana Umaga raised the performance of West versus that of replacement Francis in the final quarter in the defeat by the Highlanders at Eden Park, so his move is no surprise.

Francis, one of three changes made by Umaga following his team's disappointing 16-12 loss on Saturday, will be told to be decisive against the Crusaders - both with his kicking and running game.

Both will be important against a red and black team who will be without outside backs Israel Dagg and Seta Tamanivalu due to injury, but not short on self belief.

In the other changes, Jimmy Tupou moves from lock to blindside flanker as he prepares to face his former team for the first time, with Gerard Cowley-Tuioti replacing him in the second row.

Jerome Kaino moves from No6 to No8, and Melanai Nanai returns to the left wing, with Rene Ranger dropped to the development team in a bid to find more match fitness.

There is one notable addition in the reserves, with former New Zealand Under-20s midfielder TJ Faiane set to make his Super Rugby debut after being sidelined for the past two seasons with major injuries.

"We are looking for a much more competitive effort at set piece, and with more accuracy in core skills," Umaga said, after reviewing a poor performance from his pack against the Highlanders.

"You cannot be competitive in this competition with the error rate that we committed last week."

The Blues team to play the Crusaders at AMI Stadium on Friday, kick-off 7.35pm is: Michael Collins, Matt Duffie, Rieko Ioane, George Moala, Melani Nanai, Piers Francis, Augustine Pulu, Jerome Kaino, Blake Gibson, Jimmy Tupou, Patrick Tuipulotu, Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, Ofa Tu'ungafasi, James Parsons (c), Pauliasi Manu.
Reserves: Matt Moulds, Sam Prattley, Sione Mafileo, Akira Ioane, Murphy Taramai, Billy Guyton, Ihaia West, TJ Faiane.

- NZ Herald

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