Nonu to make Blues bow
March 8, 2012
Ma'a Nonu will make his debut for the Blues against the Bulls © Getty Images
A cluster of World Cup stars are set to make their first starts of the Super Rugby season in round three.
All Blacks centre Ma'a Nonu, who played a central role in New Zealand's World Cup triumph last October, will make his much-anticipated debut for the Blues against the unbeaten Bulls in Pretoria on Saturday.
The Blues, who make a total of eight changes for the clash, are desperate for a lift after defeats to the Crusaders and Chiefs in their opening fixtures and will hope Nonu and fellow All Black Piri Weepu can provide it.
Australia fullback Kurtley Beale makes his first start for the Melbourne Rebels against the Reds in Brisbane on Saturday. The Wallaby has recovered from a hamstring injury and comes into the Rebels' back three alongside Mark Gerrard and Cooper Vuna.
Scrum-half Nick Phipps is replaced by Richard Kingi but Danny Cipriani and James O'Connor continue their partnership at fly-half and inside centre following the Rebels defeat to the Waratahs in their opening match of the season last Friday.
The Reds will field their third different back row in three weeks after Liam Gill was selected to start at openside flanker in Saturday's Super 15 match against the Melbourne Rebels at Suncorp Stadium. Gill replaces Beau Robinson in the starting XV, lining up alongside blindside flanker Scott Higginbotham, who has recovered from a gluteus strain, and Jake Schatz at No.8.
Meanwhile, Saia Fainga'a has been named on the bench, returning to action for the first time since sustaining an ankle injury in the Reds' opening trial of 2012. Brother Anthony Fainga'a, however, was unable to overcome his hamstring complaint and remains a doubt for Queensland's upcoming South African tour.
Wallabies centre Rob Horne will make his long-awaited comeback from shoulder surgery when he lines up on the wing for the Brumbies against the Cheetahs in Canberra on Saturday. Jake White's Brumbies are one from one after their victory over the Western Force while the Cheetahs are still searching for their first win of the season following a thrashing by the Bulls and a narrow defeat to the Lions.
On Friday the highly-fancied Chiefs and the ever-consistent Crusaders clash at McLean Park in Napier. The Chiefs are unchanged after their victory over the Blues while the Crusaders make several changes, including call ups for Zac Guildford, Owen Franks, Corey Flynn and Luke Romano, following a sloppy defeat to the Highlanders.
In Friday's other match up the Western Force, who prop up the Australian conference following defeats to the Reds and Brumbies, are boosted by the return of Richard Brown and Cameron Shepherd for the visit of the Hurricanes. The Canes had mixed results from their tour to South Africa, coming away with a victory over the Lions but defeat to the Stormers. And they include exciting young winger Julian Savea for the first time this season after recovering from a shoulder injury.
The Highlanders defend their unbeaten start to the season at home to the Waratahs on Saturday. Narrow victories over New Zealand heavyweights the Chiefs and Crusaders has given the Highlanders huge belief ahead of their clash with the Waratahs, who tore through the Rebels last Friday.
In the round's final encounter the Lions travel to Durban to face the Sharks with both sides boasting one win from their opening Super Rugby fixtures this season.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Italy coach Jacques Brunel spoke to ESPN ahead of his final season as Italy coach and tells of his desire to experiment and evolve
"There's no bull with me, I just tell it straight." Tom Hamilton talks to Warren Gatland in an exclusive interview
With the retirement of Adam Jones, Welsh rugby says goodbye to a great player and one of its biggest personalities too, writes Tom Hamilton
Cards, kicks, slips and scores: It's The Week in Pictures, the finest snaps from the last seven days of rugby