Charles Piutau absence forces backline shuffle

LIAM NAPIER
Last updated 14:02 21/05/2014
Lolagi Visinia
Getty

STARTING: Lolagi Visinia moves to fullback for the Blues in this weekend's match against the Sharks.

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Charles Piutau's absence has forced a backline reshuffle for the Blues.

Lolagi Visinia takes Piutau's spot at fullback, with the All Blacks utility out of action for up to two months with a knee injury.

That also sees Tevita Li recalled to the left wing for Friday's must-win Super Rugby clash with the Sharks at North Harbour Stadium.

Pita Ahki has been selected at centre ahead of George Moala, who drops out of the squad entirely, with Francis Saili and Jackson Willison also sidelined.

"Pita is one of our young guys we've been working hard with," Blues coach Sir John Kirwan said.

"He's young, but with the form of Lolagi it was an easy decision to put him to fullback for Charles, who is out, and it puts Tevita back on to the wing.

"With Pita coming into centre, it's a young crew but full of talent, ability and excitement."

Captain Luke Braid returns from a shoulder injury, having missed the games against the Chiefs and the Reds.

His inclusion ahead of Brendon O'Connor is the only change to the forward pack, with All Blacks flanker Steven Luatua still unable to force his way past Peter Saili at No 6.

"It was really important to make sure we gave Luke time to recover from his shoulder," Kirwan said.

"He's our leader and has been playing out of his skin for us, so I think it's really good that he's back, and he will give us good direction and leadership."

He said Visinia, who has started in the past four games and scored three tries, was beginning to deliver on his exciting promise after sorting out his preparation off the field.

"Super Rugby is a different level and you've just got to not expose these guys too early," he said.

"You've got to bring them into it, and when they're ready they'll explode, and I think that's what Lolagi has done.

"The good thing about Lolagi is he's got his off-field preparation right.

"What a lot of these younger guys don't realise is that it's about preparing every week and making sure you do that right, and the game takes care of itself.

"That's where Lolagi has been so strong. He's worked really hard this year off the field.

"We know he's got the ability and he's like a lot of our other guys - they've got the ability but they've actually got to prepare to play, and that's been the most rewarding thing for Lolagi."

Halfback Jamison Gibson-Park comes on to the bench in place of Piri Weepu, who injured his groin playing club rugby in Wellington last week, while outside back Albert Nikoro is named in the squad for the first time this season.

The Blues must win to keep their hopes of making the playoffs alive.

"We all know [Sharks coach] Jake White very well and he plays a great brand of football as far as strangling the opposition goes and really making you work hard for every yard, so we're expecting that," Kirwan said.

"You also couple that with eight or nine Springboks in the side, so they're not at the top of the conference for no reason.

"I think last week was a pretty awesome effort against the Crusaders. They'd be proud of that, so we're going to have to be on top of our game."

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Blues: Lolagi Visinia, Frank Halai, Pita Ahki, Ma'a Nonu, Tevita Li, Simon Hickey, Bryn Hall, Jerome Kaino, Luke Braid (c), Peter Saili, Tom Donnelly, Patrick Tuipulotu, Charlie Faumuina, Keven Mealamu, Tony Woodcock. Reserves: James Parsons, Sam Prattley, Angus Ta'avao, Hayden Triggs, Steven Luatua, Jamison Gibson-Park, Ihaia West, Albert Nikoro.

- Stuff

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