Another new face starts for Blues against Force

DAVID LONG
Last updated 12:39 05/07/2012
Charles Piutau
Reuters
ROOKIE BLUE: Charles Piutau in action for the New Zealand sevens team in Hong Kong.
ma'a nonu
RETURN: Ma'a Nonu was rested by the All Blacks for their three test series with Ireland.

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Fullback Charles Piutau will be the latest player to make his debut for the Blues this season.

With Rudi Wulf out for the season with a shoulder injury, Piutau, who has been part of the New Zealand sevens team this year, has been handed the No 15 jersey for the Blues' game against the Force at Eden Park on Saturday night.

He is one of four changes to the starting team that lost to the Chiefs a month ago.

Other changes are lock Andrew Van der Heijden replacing the injured Ali Williams, Keven Mealamu back at hooker and Piri Weepu getting the nod over Alby Mathewson at halfback.

"Charles is pretty excited about his first Super Rugby game on the back of a good sevens programme," Blues coach Pat Lam said.

"He played a pre-season game for us last year and with the amount of injuries in the back three this is a good opportunity for him.

"Piri has come back in from the All Blacks campaign and his experience will certainly help us.

"The rest of the backline is the same from the Chiefs, Francis Saili is going from strength to strength [at centre], so he gets another opportunity there.

"In the forwards, Keven is back to lead the side and it's great to have him back. With the three locks out, Ali Williams, Anthony Boric and Filo Paulo, Andrew Van der Heijden comes straight in and he's fitted in well."

Orene Ai'i, who last played for the Blues in 2004, has been named on the bench.

Over the past eight years he has played in France and Japan and will run out for Northland in this season's NPC.

Lam could have selected him at fullback, but felt it was better to have him concentrate on playing first-five, while test out Piutau at this level.

"Orene is mainly around the 10 cover," he said.

"He can play other positions, but Charles has trained against us when we had a few hit outs and it has re-enforced with us why he was an original choice for our wider training group but he wasn't allowed to do both, so he went to sevens.

"He was in the New Zealand 20s the year before, has played a couple of good ITM Cup games for Auckland, so it's good to find out where he's at at this level and I'm confident he'll do well."

Reserve hooker Tom McCartney will play his 50th game for the franchise if he takes to the field.

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Blues: Charles Piutau, Lachie Munro, Francis Saili, Ma'a Nonu, Rene Ranger, Michael Hobbs, Piri Weepu, Luke Braid, Daniel Braid, Steven Luatua, Andrew Van der Heijden, Liaki Moli, Tevita Mailau, Keven Mealamu (capt), Tony Woodcock. Reserves: Tom McCartney, Angus Ta'avao, Chris Lowrey, Peter Saili, Alby Mathewson, Orene Ai'i, Hadleigh Parkes.

- Fairfax Media

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