Rieko Ioane, the Blues' hat-trick hero against the Rebels, was originally slated to play on the wing rather than his preferred centre position, but his standout performance in Melbourne has made it virtually impossible for coach Tana Umaga to move him.

The performance of the powerful 19-year-old, a New Zealand sevens star last year and one clearly with a big future in the 15s game after he made his All Black debut on the November tour, has made it relatively easy for Umaga in terms of selection but potentially tougher for fellow All Black midfielders Rene Ranger and George Moala in terms of pushing for a starting place.

Another convincing performance from Ioane in the No13 jersey against the Chiefs in Hamilton on Friday night could keep his two midfield rivals on the bench, although Ranger also has the ability to play on either wing.

Both Ranger (knee) and Moala (elbow) are returning from injuries suffered last year and will be guaranteed opportunities over the course of a season which doesn't finish until August, but in the meantime Ioane is calling the shots and Piers Francis is seen as a lock-in at second-five for his ability to communicate outside No10 Ihaia West.


"We've had a plan in pre-season with Rieko and we talked about it - it was going to be on the wing, but then we had George and Rene come back not as quickly... so he got a first opportunity at centre," Umaga said.

"As we talked about, if you get opportunities it's up to you what you do with them. He's taken his with two hands - he wants to be a centre, so he's put the pressure on us as coaches to select him. When players are playing well we've got to go with those who are doing what we asked them to do. Now it's on those others to match that or be better."

It was noticeable that Ranger was eager to impress once he took the field at AAMI Park after 67 minutes; so much so that he got himself offside at a ruck in an attempt to win the ball and was promptly sinbinned, a victim also of a general team warning by referee Angus Gardner.

"Competition for places" is an easy phrase for coaches to say but there appears to a real desperation for starting jerseys at the Blues in Umaga's second year at the franchise that hasn't been seen for a while.

All Black lock Patrick Tuipulotu is another with that attitude, although for him there is also a sense of making up for lost time.

Tuipulotu's career was thrown into disarray following a positive test for a non-specified performance enhancing drug, but, after training by himself in pre-season he is ready to return, albeit via the reserves bench at Waikato Stadium.

A solid outing will almost certainly see him starting the Blues' round three match against the Highlanders at Eden Park.

"He's back to his playing weight from last year," Umaga said of Tuipulotu. "But as our boys are finding out, you can train as hard as you like but getting that game fitness is what they need. We could have put thim through the development game before ours but he's ticking every box so far and he's bringing a lot of excitement."

The Blues team to play the Chiefs at Waikato Stadium on Friday, kick-off: 7.35pm is: Michael Collins, Matt Duffie, Rieko Ioane, Piers Francis, Melani Nanai, Ihaia West, Augustine Pulu, Akira Ioane, Blake Gibson, Steven Luatua, Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, Jimmy Tupou (c), Sione Mafileo, Matt Moulds, Pauliasi Manu.

Reserves: Hame Faiva, Ofa Tu'ungafasi, Charlie Faumuina, Patrick Tuipulotu, Jerome Kaino, Billy Guyton, George Moala, Rene Ranger.