Blues go West at first-five for Hurricanes clash
Hawke's Bay playmaker Ihaia West will make his first start for the Blues against the Hurricanes at Eden Park on Saturday.
Called into the Blues squad last month following the season-ending injury to Baden Kerr, West has made an immediate impression in three cameos off the bench and replaces Simon Hickey in the No.10 jersey.
"What we've been impressed with is his calmness under fire," Blues coach Sir John Kirwan said.
"He's come in and been thrown in the deep end and said 'bring it on' so he deserves his start. We really think he could be an influential player in the future of this franchise like Simon so we've got two very good young men in our squad and it's no secret that we are looking for someone to step into that role.
"Both those young men have certainly put their hands up but I think with Ihaia getting a start this week we just want a little bit more attack and he'll bring that to us."
George Moala is named on the left wing ahead of Tevita Li, who has been stood down for a breach of internal team protocols, while veteran halfback Piri Weepu has overcome a groin strain to be named on the bench.
Consecutive defeats to the Chiefs and Sharks have opened up a gap between the bottom placed Blues and the rest of the New Zealand conference. They currently sit 11 points off front runners the Crusaders and 10 points behind the second placed Hurricanes.
But Kirwan believes his side is not far away from clicking.
"We're five per cent off and we have lost to the first team and what was the second team last week when we probably should have won so they are good signs. The team is heading in the right direction, we're just not winning games which has put us under pressure."
Kirwan hasn't given up hope of his side making the playoffs and knows the formula is simple - win the last four games of the season.
"We're definitely in playoff mode, we can't drop a game," he said.
"If we want to achieve what we set out to achieve we can't drop a game so it's a big ask but it's quite exciting at the same time. We're at home and it's a must-win."
The Hurricanes thrashed back-to-back champion Chiefs 45-8 last week to underline their credentials and Kirwan knows his side is in for a huge challenge.
"They're in form and are playing bloody well but they're still under pressure because they finish with a bye so everyone else has four games whereas they have three so it's a must-win for them which is similar to us. [Beauden] Barrett is playing the house down and their backs are really firing so if you give them an inch they'll take a mile."
Lolagi Visinia, Frank Halai, Pita Ahki, Ma'a Nonu, George Moala, Ihaia West, Bryn Hall, Jerome Kaino, Luke Braid (C), Peter Saili, Tom Donnelly, Patrick Tuipulotu, Charlie Faumuina, Keven Mealamu, Tony Woodcock
James Parsons, Ofa Tu'ungafasi, Angus Ta'avao, Hayden Triggs, Steven Luatua, Piri Weepu, Simon Hickey, Albert Nikoro