Benji, Kaino, Nonu on Blues bench
March 20, 2014
Jerome Kaino is looking forward to his first Super Rugby action since 2011 © Getty Images
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Benji Marshall, Ma'a Nonu and Jerome Kaino will face the Cheetahs from the Blues bench at Eden Park on Saturday, with Sir John Kirwan electing to start Chales Piutau at fullback and Simon Hickey at fly-half.
Marshall made a solid showing against the Lions in Johannesburg last week, but Kirwan re-instated Charles Piutau in the No.15 jumper to maximise the impact of the Blues' most damaging player in attack this season. Piutau played on the wing against the Lions.
Tevita Li has recovered from a hand injury to take his place on the left wing, while Hickey replaces Noakes at 10 as the fourth change at five-eighth in five matches. Noakes has been omitted from the squad.
Kirwan resisted the urge to start Bryn Hall ahead of Piri Weepu at No.9, even though the former was a major factor in the Blues' comeback off the bench in Johannesburg.
Peter Saili returns to the back of the scrum at No.8, while Hayden Triggs, from the bench, will play for his fourth New Zealand Super Rugby team.
The selection of Kaino and Nonu is the biggest talking point, the pair returning to Blues colours for the first time since 2011 and 2012 respectively.
"The hard thing for them is to go straight from no rugby into Super Rugby after the other guys have been playing for four weeks, and that's the reason they're starting off the bench," Kirwan said. "It's important to give them time to get used to the pace and impact of it. But it's really exciting for us, it's great to have them back, they've both been training really hard and it's great to finally have them available."
Kirwan is likely to give Kaino 30 minutes from the bench, but he said that he and the Blues "want to get the Jerome Kaino back who left New Zealand a couple of years ago as soon as possible".
Kaino said he would be challenged by the speed of the game after two years playing in Japan, where the pace and intensity of competition is not so severe.
"Everyone is going to be expecting me to be the player that left after the World Cup," Kaino said. "I'm going to strive to put out a good performance. It was pretty quick in Japan. Physically, the size of the guys you are playing is not the same. Super Rugby is a lot more superior. That's going to be the biggest challenge, but I'm looking forward to reintroducing myself to that level of rugby."
Kirwan said of Marshall: "The great thing about Benji is he's really put us under pressure to pick him after last week's performance. Charles is an incumbent All Blacks who's been our form player all year so we just need Benji to keep working on his game and just a little bit more positional play, and Tevita brings a nice spark on the wing."
Kirwan said that he had persisted with Weepu because the player's experience would be vital alongside rookie Hickey.
"Piri's been playing really well for us from a leadership point of view so he's really driving the football team and the experience he brings for Simon is important."
Blues: Charles Piutau; Frank Halai, George Moala, Jackson Willison, Tevita Li; Simon Hickey, Piri Weepu; Peter Saili, Luke Braid (captain), Steven Luatua; Tom Donnelly, Liaki Moli; Charlie Faumuina, James Parsons, Tony Woodcock. Replacements: Tom McCartney, Angus Ta'avao, Ofa Tu'ungafasi, Jerome Kaino, Hayden Triggs, Bryn Hall, Ma'a Nonu, Benji Marshall
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