• Blues bank on Luatua

    Steven Luatua has returned to the Blues' starting XV for Saturday's must-win clash with the Force in Perth.

    The 23-year-old blindside flank has not featured in the run-on side since round 10 against the Hurricanes after being squeezed out by the in-form Peter Saili, but Blues coach John Kirwan believes it's time to give Luatua an opportunity.

    Midfielder Francis Saili will make his return from injury via the bench after missing the last four matches with an ankle sprain sustained during training. The bench also features wing Tevita Li who re-joins the Blues after a superb campaign with the New Zealand U20s at the Junior World Championship.

    Charlie Faumuina had a stomach bug at the start of the week and has been bracketed at tighthead prop with Angus Ta'avao, with a decision on his availability expected to be made on Thursday.

    Meanwhile, the Force will welcome back six players from injury for Saturday's match – blindside flank Hugh McMeniman (collarbone), No 8 Ben McCalman (groin), scrumhalf Alby Mathewson (ankle) and outside centre Marcel Brache (ankle), as well as Tetera Faulkner (back) and Solomoni Rasolea (wrist), who are on the bench.

    Force – 15 Jayden Hayward, 14 Dane Haylett-Petty, 13 Marcel Brache, 12 Chris Tuatara-Morrison, 11 Nick Cummins, 10 Sias Ebersohn, 9 Alby Mathewson, 8 Ben McCalman, 7 Matt Hodgson (c), 6 Hugh McMeniman, 5 Adam Coleman, 4 Sam Wykes, 3 Kieran Longbottom, 2 Nathan Charles, 1 Pek Cowan.
    Subs: 16 Heath Tessmann, 17 Tetera Faulkner, 18 Oliver Hoskins, 19 Wilhelm Steenkamp, 20 Brynard Stander, 21 Ian Prior, 22 Zack Holmes, 23 Solomoni Rasolea.

    Blues – 15 Lolagi Visinia, 14 Frank Halai, 13 Pita Ahki, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 George Moala, 10 Ihaia West, 9 Bryn Hall, 8 Jerome Kaino, 7 Luke Braid (c), 6 Steven Luatua, 5 Patrick Tuipulotu, 4 Tom Donnelly, 3 Charlie Faumuina/ Angus Ta'avao, 2 Keven Mealamu, 1 Tony Woodcock.
    Subs: 16 James Parsons, 17 Angus Ta'avao/ Tom McCartney, 18 Ofa Tu'ungafasi, 19 Hayden Triggs, 20 Peter Saili, 21 Piri Weepu, 22 Francis Saili, 23 Tevita Li.

    Super Rugby teams (Round 17)

    Photo: Barry Aldworth/BackpagePix

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    Simon Borchardt