The return of No 8 Jerome Kaino could inspire the Blues to a second win of the season against the Force in Auckland on Saturday, writes MARIETTE ADAMS.
Both sides have just one victory in 10 matches, but the Force are at the foot of the combined Vodacom Super Rugby log because they've picked up one less losing bonus point.
Kaino and rookie flank Akira Ioane have been shining lights in an otherwise dark season for the Blues and coach John Kirwan will be hoping the duo carry their good form into the contest against the equally woeful Force.
Kaino, who was rested for the game against the Crusaders last weekend, is the Blues' leading try scorer (three), but it's his work off the ball and presence at the breakdown that could prove to be the difference between the sides at Eden Park.
The Force have only beaten their hosts once in eight attempts, but if they play like they did against the Chiefs in Hamilton last week (where they lost 35-27), they can end a seven-year drought against the Blues.
Kirwan has recalled Kaino and fellow All Black Charlles Piutau to the Blues XV, while lock Josh Bekhuis and centre George Moala are bracketed because of fitness concerns.
There's one change to the Force team, with SA-born scrumhalf Ryan Louwrens coming in for the suspended Ian Prior.
HEAD TO HEAD
Overall: Blues 6, Force 1, Draw 1
In Auckland: Blues 3, Force 1
STATS AND FACTS
– The Blues have won 10 of their last 12 home games against Australian opponents.
– The Force have beaten the Blues just once in Super Rugby, however that win did come away from home in 2008.
– Five of the six defeats have been by margins over 20 points.
– After defeat to the Chiefs last weekend, the Force are now winless in their last four games against New Zealand sides by an average margin of 22 points.
– Defeat for the Force would signal their worst-ever run of form in Super Rugby. They are enduring a nine-match losing streak, something which previously occurred at the beginning of their first campaign in 2006.
– The Blues' 29-15 loss to the Crusaders was their heaviest defeat in over a year but their 11th defeat in 12 matches.
|Team||Top point-scorer||Top try-scorer||Most metres gained||Most tackles|
|Blues||Ihaia West (64)||Jerome Kaino (3)||Charles Piutau (677)||Kyle Godwin (78)|
|Force||Luke Burton (37)||Luke Morahan (3)||Dane Haylett-Petty (478)||Brendon O'Connor (74)|
Blues – 15 Charles Piutau. 14 Lolagi Visinia, 13 Francis Saili, 12 George Moala/Hamish Northcott, 11 Melani Nanai, 10 Dan Bowden, 9 Jimmy Cowan, 8 Jerome Kaino (c), 7 Brendon O’Connor, 6 Akira Ioane, 5 Hayden Triggs, 4 Josh Bekhuis/Culum Retallick, 3 Charlie Faumuina, 2 Keven Mealamu, 1 Tony Woodcock.
Subs: 16 James Parsons, 17 Ofa Tu’ungafasi, 18 Angus Ta’avao, 19 Steven Luatua, 20 Luke Braid, 21 Jamison Gibson-Park, 22 Ihaia West, 23 Hamish Northcott/Tevita Li.
Force – 15 Dane Haylett-Petty, 14 Luke Morahan, 13 Kyle Godwin, 12 Luke Burton, 11 Nick Cummins, 10 Sias Ebersohn, 9 Ryan Louwrens, 8 Ben McCalman, 7 Matt Hodgson (c), 6 Angus Cottrell, 5 Adam Coleman/Wilhelm Steenkamp, 4 Steve Mafi, 3 Tetera Faulkner, 2 Nathan Charles, 1 Pekahou Cowan.
Subs: 16 Heath Tessmann, 17 Chris Heiberg, 18 Guy Millar, 19 Wilhelm Steenkamp/Ross Haylett-Petty, 20 Kane Koteka, 21 Justin Turner, 22 Marcel Brache, 23 Junior Rasolea.
Photo: Hannah Peters/Getty Images