Blues must improve set piece

The Blues need to rectify their malfunctioning set piece if they are to get the better of the Hurricanes at Eden Park on Friday, writes CRAIG LEWIS.

After starting their season with a 33-31 victory over the Highlanders, the Blues were brought back down to earth after the Crusaders clinched a comfortable win last weekend.

The Blues lost five of their own lineouts in the 28-13 loss, while their scrum was decimated in the first half, and their inability to hold their own in the set pieces was a key factor that led to a first defeat of the season.

In response, coach Tana Umaga has sent out a clear message by making a host of changes to his side, most notably shifting Steven Luatua from No 8 to lock, which sees Patrick Tuipulotu drop to the bench after an indifferent showing against the Crusaders.

Charlie Faumuina's first start of the year at tighthead prop and James Parsons' return at hooker should also help ensure the Blues produce a more encouraging set piece performance on Friday. It will also be interesting to see how sevens star Akira Ioane performs at No 8.

For the Hurricanes, a key factor will be how they respond to the disruptions they have faced this week, with captain Dane Coles, Nehe Milner-Skudder and Cory Jane having all been under an injury cloud. Milner-Skudder and Jane eventually passed fitness tests on Thursday, and will slot onoto the right wing and bench respectively, but Coles was ruled out, with Leni Apisai set to start at hooker.

The Hurricanes made a disappointing start to the season when they suffered a thrashing at the hands of the Brumbies, but they produced a much-improved performance against the Highlanders last weekend.

Playing with better intensity and physicality, the Hurricanes showed some signs of rediscovering their form of old, but they desperately need to cut out the handling errors that have plagued their play so far this season.

In what should be a battle of attrition at Eden Park on Friday, there’s unlikely to be very much separating the sides at the final whistle.

Overall: Blues 14, Hurricanes 10, Drawn 1
Auckland: Blues 8, Hurricanes 5

– The spoils are split at five wins apiece in the last 10 clashes between these teams, although the Hurricanes have clinched victory in their last two.
– The Hurricanes have claimed victory in five of their last nine visits to Blues home territory.
– Despite scoring 33 points in their round-one win against the Highlanders, the Blues still average just 14 points scored across their last four games at home.
– Since the Blues’ last win over the Hurricanes in 2014, they’ve won only one of their 12 matches against New Zealand opponents.
– The Hurricanes are enduring their longest losing streak (three games) since they were defeated eight times in a row across the 2013 and 2014 seasons.
Source: Opta
Team Top point-scorer Top try-scorer Most metres gained Most tackles
Blues Ihaia West (23) Blake Gibson, Melani Nanai, Tevita Li, Patrick Tuipulotu (1) Melani Nanai (103) Blake Gibson (35)
Hurricanes Beauden Barrett (16) TJ Perenara, Ngani Lauampe (1) Cory Jane (123) Blade Thomson (17)

Blues – 15 Lolagi Visinia, 14 Rene Ranger, 13 Male Sa’u, 12 George Moala, 11 Tevita Li, 10 Ihaia West, 9 Bryn Hall, 8 Akira Ioane, 7 Blake Gibson, 6 Jerome Kaino (c), 5 Josh Bekhuis, 4 Steven Luatua, 3 Charlie Faumuina, 2 James Parsons, 1 Ofa Tu'ungafasi.
Subs: 16 Quentin MacDonald, 17 Nic Mayhew, 18 Sione Mafileo, 19 Patrick Tuipulotu, 20 Kara Pryor, 21 Billy Guyton, 22 Matt McGahan, 23 Melani Nanai.

Hurricanes – 15 James Marshall, 14 Nehe Milner-Skudder, 13 Vince Aso, 12 Ngani Laumape, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 TJ Perenara, 8 Victor Vito, 7 Ardie Savea, 6 Brad Shields, 5 Mark Abbott, 4 Blade Thomson, 3 Jeff Toomaga-Allen, 2 Leni Apisai, 1 Reggie Goodes.
Subs: 16 Ricky Riccitelli, 17 Chris Eves, 18 Loni Uhila, 19 Vaea Fifita, 20 Callum Gibbins, 21 Jamison Gibson-Park, 22 Willis Halaholo, 23 Cory Jane.

Referee: Nick Briant (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Brendon Pickerill (New Zealand), Brett Johnson (New Zealand)
TMO: Shane McDermott (New Zealand)

Photo: Kai Schwoerer/Getty Images

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