Ahki included for Blues as Kirwan goes on attack
Selections have mirrored results this season for the Blues.
The merry-go-round continued yesterday with Pita Ahki chosen over George Moala at centre for tomorrow's defining clash with the Sharks.
Injuries to Francis Saili and Jackson Willison haven't helped, but Ahki's inclusion means the Blues have tried more midfield combinations (six) than registered wins this year (five).
"Some forced, some rotational," Blues coach John Kirwan said. "There's a few changes but they're positive ones. I'm pleased we've been playing different guys. I've got no issue with them stepping straight in."
While he's come off the bench in three other games this year, Ahki last started at second five-eighth more than two months ago in the loss to the Lions in Johannesburg.
In that match he held his own, but was dropped the following week in favour of Moala, who Kirwan regularly professed confidence in.
But after starting seven of 11 games at centre, Moala wasn't even required on the bench this week, with Albert Nikoro preferred as outside back cover.
For Ahki, though, the Sharks present a chance to stake a lasting claim on his home patch at North Harbour Stadium, where the large North Shore South African community are sure to be out in force.
"It's time to take my opportunity and keep learning off the senior players," he said.
"It's been an up and down season. We've got to nail these last five games."
The 21-year-old rookie has been asked to back his attacking instincts and assume some of the workload from Ma'a Nonu, a constant presence at No 12 over the last month for the Blues.
"We're really excited about Pita," Kirwan said. "We think he's going to be one of our future stars. He brings good feet and great attack."
On the whole, the Blues will rely on an inexperienced backline. Halves pairing Bryn Hall and Simon Hickey, Ahki, recalled left wing Tevita Li - first sighted since the loss to the Brumbies in early April - Frank Halai and in-form utility Lolagi Visinia, who shifts to fullback in Charles Piutau's absence, need to be near mistake-free against the astute frontrunners.
Discipline will also be crucial. The Sharks are a notoriously physical, niggly team that tries to rile the opposition.
Kirwan has put his squad on notice about not retaliating and hopes officials crack down on any dodgy antics.
Needing to win at least four of their last five games to make the playoffs, the Blues should be desperate.
Former All Blacks halfback Piri Weepu is expected to be out until after June break with a groin injury he suffered in Wellington club rugby last weekend.