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Blues ‘bounce’ their All Blacks

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Blues coach David Nucifora has bucked the system and left most of his reconditioned World Cup All Blacks on the sideline when he named the team to face the Waratahs on Friday.

Nucifora’s decision to bounce the returning All Blacks from this Super 14 Round Eight match is in stark contrast with what the other New Zealand franchises are doing.

The Crusaders have named six of their All Blacks in the starting XV to face the Stormers and the Hurricanes have indicated they will also use their six All Black stars in the match against the Lions.

But the closest any World Cup All Black has come to Nucifora’s Blues side for Friday’s encounter at Eden Park is hooker Keven Mealamu … and then he only made it onto the replacements bench.

Nucifora has left All Black lock Ali Williams and prop Tony Woodcock out of his matchday 22 altogether.

Wing Joe Rokocoko will miss the game because of the ankle injury he suffered in the warm-up game between the development teams of the Blues and Chiefs last week – a game in which Woodcock missed because of an injury niggle.

Nucifora said Williams and Woodcock will play club rugby this weekend.

In fact the Blues coach suggested that had prop Saimone Taumoepeau, who doubled as backup hooker for the Blues in the first seven weeks, been fit, then Mealamu may also have been relegated to club rugby.

“Right from the start we’ve had a plan about how we go about this,” Nucifora said. “The other players have been doing a job, and doing a very good job.

“Everyone was aware right from the start that it would take a few weeks to get through the process of integrating the guys back in properly.”

Nucifora said he will judge the players on an individual basis when he starts considering when to reintroduce them to the high flying Blues outfit – which is currently second on the standings behind the unbeaten Sharks.

“We’re certainly not looking at a blanket situation,” he said, adding that it will be a gradual return.

Even with the All Black on the sidelines the Blues side still shows five changes as they come back from last week’s bye and a comprehensive victory over the Lions in Week Six.

Chris Heard comes in to replace Saimone Taumoepeau at loosehead prop and Angus Macdonald returns to the loose trio, with Jerome Kaino shifting back to number eight.

Nick Williams, who steamrollered the Lions, misses.

In the backs Steve Devine gets a start at scrum-half, Isa Nacewa returns at fly-half and George Pisi is in at fullback – with Ben Atiga dropping down to the bench.

Blues: 15 George Pisi, 14 Doug Howlett, 13 Isaia Toeava, 12 Luke McAlister, 11 Rudi Wulf, 10 Isa Nacewa, 9 Steve Devine, 8 Jerome Kaino, 7 Daniel Braid, 6 Angus Macdonald, 5 Troy Flavell (c), 4 Greg Rawlinson, 3 John Afoa, 2 Derren Witcombe, 1 Chris Heard.
Replacements: 16 Keven Mealamu, 17 Nick White, 18 Anthony Boric, 19 Justin Collins, 20 David Gibson, 21 David Holwell, 22 Ben Atiga.

Date: Friday, 23 March
Venue: Eden Park, Auckland
Kick-off: 19.35 (07.35 GMT)
Referee: Marius Jonker (South Africa)
Touch judges: Craig Joubert (South Africa), Steve Walsh (New Zealand)
Television match official: Ben Skeen (New Zealand)
Assessor: Stuart Beissel (New Zealand), Brian Kinsey

 

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