New dad Ranger switched to wing for Blues
Rene Ranger will have more than just a positional switch on his mind when the Blues play the Hurricanes at Eden Park on Saturday.
The in-form former All Black, one of two changes to the Blues' starting lineup, was absent from training today after returning home for the birth of his first child.
Blues coach Sir John Kirwan has shifted Ranger to the left wing to cover the absence of George Moala, who is serving a one-week suspension for a high shot on Highlanders wing Buxton Popali'i.
"George being suspended, we felt we needed to put our [most] experienced side out there," Kirwan said.
"I had a chat to Rene and he was happy to do it for the team, although he's been really good for us at centre.
"He'll be back tomorrow. It's not ideal, but it's just one of those things.
"We're happy for him and Kimberly, his wife. He's been around long enough to slot in."
Ranger's move means the Blues will field a largely untried midfield combination.
After being dropped last week, Francis Saili will start at centre, with Jackson Willison retaining his role at second five-eighth.
The other change sees prop Tom McCartney recalled to bolster the loosehead side of the scrum in place of Tim Perry.
Despite the Blues' set-piece struggles against the Highlanders, All Blacks hooker Keven Mealamu and lock Anthony Boric remain on the bench.
"It's according to the plan," Kirwan said. "Kevvy is pretty close, but he has another week to warm into it, then he gets a week off [with the bye]."
Kirwan felt the Hurricanes' decision to hand Samoan playmaker Tusi Pisi his first start of the season would enhance the visitors' attacking prowess.
"I know Tusi Pisi very well. I've been watching him in Japan," he said.
"He is a very good player with ball in hand and he'll bring an extra edge to their attack. Beauden [Barrett] is competent at fullback and is a strong kicker."
Suggestions first-five Chris Noakes would test Barrett's positional play were downplayed.
"He's played there enough. If you start worrying about that you get in trouble," Kirwan said.
"We've got a kicking plan and we're going to stick to it."
In round one, the Blues upset the Hurricanes 34-10 in Wellington.
Blues: Charles Piutau, Frank Halai, Francis Saili, Jackson Willison, Rene Ranger, Chris Noakes, Piri Weepu, Peter Saili, Luke Braid, Steven Luatua, Ali Williams, Culum Retallick, Angus Ta'avao, James Parsons, Tom McCartney Reserves: Keven Mealamu, Ofa Tu'ungafasi, Anthony Boric, Brendon O'Connor, Jamison Gibson-Park, Baden Kerr, Albert Nikoro