The Blues will be aiming for a bonus-point win against the Reds in Brisbane on Saturday, writes SIMON BORCHARDT.
Tana Umaga made the perfect start to his stint as Blues coach when his team upset the champion Highlanders 33-31 in Auckland. But Umaga then made six changes to his starting XV for their next match against the Crusaders in Christchurch, a gamble which backfired when they lost 28-13.
And last Friday, the Blues suffered a 23-19 defeat to the struggling Hurricanes. Flyhalf Ihaia West had a poor night with the boot, missing two penalties and two conversions, and while the Blues battered away at the Hurricanes' line for a full three minutes after the hooter they were unable to score the match-winning try.
With two losses in three games, the Blues need to get their season back on track and they couldn't have asked for better opponents against which to do it.
The Reds are a team in turmoil. After two opening defeats – 30-10 to the Waratahs in Sydney and 22-6 to the Force in Brisbane – head coach Richard Graham was sacked, with Matt O’Connor and Nick Stiles taking over as interim co-coaches.
Often a change of coach results in an immediate change of fortunes, but while the Reds played better against the Rebels in Melbourne, they still lost 25-23.
According to the Vodacom Stats App, the Reds have missed the second most tackles this season (76) and on Saturday they will be up against a Blues team that has beaten the third most defenders (69). The Blues love to keep the ball alive in the tackle – they've made the second most offloads (34) – and if their backline gets going it could be a long night for the hosts.
The Reds have made just one change to their match 23, with prop Pettowa Paraka replacing the injured Ben Daley on the bench.
In three changes to the Blues starting XV, Patrick Tuipulotu comes in at No 4 lock, Steven Luatua moves back to No 8 and teenager Rieko Ioane earns his first start on the right wing.
HEAD TO HEAD
Overall: Reds 10, Blues 9, Draw 1
In Brisbane: Reds 8, Blues 3
STATS AND FACTS
– The Reds have won four of their last five matches against the Blues, including a 30-13 semi-final triumph in 2011.
– The Reds have won only one of their last nine matches against New Zealand opponents.
– The Blues have won twice in Australia since the beginning of the 2011 season, though their last win against the Reds across the Tasman Sea came in round three, 2010.
– The Reds (13) have conceded the most penalty goals of any team so far this season and have kicked fewer than half that many (six) in reply.
– George Moala made eight offloads for the Blues in round three, double that of any other player over the weekend, to leapfrog straight to the top of the season table for offloads.
|Team||Top point-scorer||Top try-scorer||Most metres gained||Most tackles|
|Reds||Jake McIntyre (18)||Jake McIntyre, Andrew Ready, Nick Frisby (1)||Eto Nabuli (176)||Jake Schatz (37)|
|Blues||Ihaia West (32)||Blake Gibson, Tevita Li, Melani Nanai, Patrick Tuipulotu, George Moala, Rene Ranger (1)||Melani Nanai (122)||Blake Gibson (46)|
Reds – 15 Karmichael Hunt, 14 Chris Feauai-Sautia, 13 Samu Kerevi, 12 Anthony Faingaa, 11 Eto Nabuli, 10 Jake McIntyre, 9 Nick Frisby, 8 Jake Schatz, 7 Waita Setu, 6 Hendrik Tui, 5 Rob Simmons (c), 4 Caderyn Neville, 3 Greg Holmes, 2 Andrew Ready, 1 Sef Fa’agase.
Subs: 16 Matt Mafi, 17 Pettowa Parka, 18 Sam Talakai, 19 Ben Matwijow, 20 Curtis Browning, 21 Scott Gale, 22 Sam Greene, 23 Ayumu Goromaru.
Blues – 15 Lolagi Visinia, 14 Rieko Ioane, 13 Male Sa’u, 12 George Moala, 11 Tevita Li, 10 Ihaia West, 9 Bryn Hall, 8 Steven Luatua, 7 Blake Gibson, 6 Jerome Kaino (c), 5 Josh Bekhuis, 4 Patrick Tuipulotu, 3 Charlie Faumuina, 2 James Parsons, 1 Ofa Tu'ungafasi.
Subs: 16 Quentin MacDonald, 17 Nic Mayhew, 18 Sione Mafileo, 19 Hoani Matenga, 20 Kara Pryor, 21 Akira Ioane, 22 Matt McGahan, 23 Melani Nanai.
Referee: Andrew Lees (Australia)
Assistant referees: Nic Berry (Australia), Jordan Way (Australia)
TMO: Damien Mitchelmore (Australia)
Photo: Phil Walter/Getty Images