Preview: Blues vs Crusaders

The Blues and Crusaders go toe-to-toe at Eden Park on Friday following defeats which have led to a few heads rolling.

The Blues less so than the Crusaders but they have still got the hook out following defeat as Chris Noakes and Liaki Moli lose their places. Noakes was axed from the match 23 and replaced by youngster Simon Hickey, with Benji Marshall deemed not yet ready for a big start.

More notable for the Blues though is the absence – due to injury – of centre Francis Saili and possible unavailability of flanker Luke Braid.

Changes have subsequently been made by Todd Blackadder and it comes as little surprise that Tyler Bleyendaal is dropped after his performance last week, with All Blacks squad member Tom Taylor getting the nod for Auckland. Some continue to wonder why he was behind Bleyendaal in the first place.

Blackadder has also knocked Israel Dagg and Johnny McNicholl out of his team, instead putting Colin Slade and Rob Thompson at 15 and 14 at Eden Park. The return of IRB Player of the Year Kieran Read, though, is the ultimate lift.

Blues – 15 Charles Piutau, 14 Frank Halai, 13 George Moala, 12 Jackson Willison, 11 Tevita Li, 10 Simon Hickey, 9 Piri Weepu, 8 Peter Saili, 7 Luke Braid/Brendon O'Connor, 6 Steven Luatua, 5 Tom Donnelly, 4 Patrick Tuipulotu, 3 Charlie Faumuina, 2 James Parsons, 1 Sam Prattley.
Subs: 16 Keven Mealamu, 17 Tony Woodcock, 18 Angus Ta'avao, 19 Liaki Moli, 20 Brendon O'Connor/Jordan Manihera, 21 Bryn Hall, 22 Benji Marshall, 23 Pita Ahki.

Crusaders – 15 Colin Slade, 14 Rob Thompson, 13 Rey Lee-Lo, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 Nafi Tuitavake, 10 Tom Taylor, 9 Andy Ellis, 8 Kieran Read (c), 7 Richie McCaw, 6 George Whitelock, 5 Dominic Bird, 4 Sam Whitelock, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Corey Flynn, 1 Tim Perry.
Subs: 16 Ben Funnell, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Nepo Laulala, 19 Luke Romano, 20 Matt Todd, 21 Willi Heinz, 22 Adam Whitelock, 23 Israel Dagg.

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