Weepu to start for Blues against Highlanders

MARC HINTON
Last updated 16:48 13/02/2013
Piri Weepu
FAIRFAX NZ
READY TO FIRE: Blues halfback Piri Weepu reckons he’s about 10kg lighter than the same time last year.

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Blues coach John Kirwan has challenged his set piece to deliver some major improvements in their final Super Rugby pre-season hitout against the Highlanders in Queenstown on Friday.

Kirwan today named slimmed-down All Black halfback Piri Weepu to start his first game of 2013 ahead of next Saturday night's season opener against the Hurricanes in the capital.

All Black prop Charlie Faumuina also has his first start in a Blues front row that Kirwan will be seeking some big things from after shaky efforts against the Reds and Waratahs over the previous fortnight.

"One of the things we need to improve on is our set piece - we've got some real challenges there for selection," said Kirwan today.

"There are a few things we'd like do better. We'd like to have a little more consistency right across the 80 minutes, because we're still a little bit up and down. And we've got to keep working hard on our set piece."

Kirwan had nothing but praise for the way Weepu had presented for duty this year, with the veteran halfback clearly having lifted his game after losing his All Blacks starting spot in 2012.

"Outstanding would be one word," said Kirwan when asked to describe the impact of Weepu's return to the team.

"Great leadership, great guidance of the young guys, great input into what we're doing as a team. I didn't know Piri, but I'd heard a lot of great things about him, and he's been brilliant."

Kirwan is happy with the overall progress of his young squad as they build towards next Saturday's season kickoff.

"I think we're getting close," he said. "The whole idea of the pre-season to make sure guys have clarity around their roles and responsibility. We've just had a meeting that said 'yeah, we're getting there'. We still need to keep working hard but getting there."

Kirwan also had nothing but praise for the Highlanders outfit whom he figures will  provide ideal opposition in Queenstown on Friday (5.30pm kickoff).

"The Highlanders have to go into this tournament as one of the favourites," added Kirwan. "Jamie has done a great job, he's recruited a great football team, and they've got a lot of All Blacks.

"But as far as we're concerned it's still about us this week. It's going to be a big test but we haven't thought or spoken about them at all."

There was also good news for the Blues today on the fitness of returning All Black lock Anthony Boric after a long spell on the sidelines with back problems.

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The big North Harbour second rower came through his first contact session without adverse signs and Kirwan said he was optimistic Boric might be available for the March 1 clash against the Crusaders.

"He hit some rucks, made some tackles, so he'll be pretty happy," said Kirwan. "He's probably two weeks away. There's a pre-season game for the development side the night we play the Hurricanes and he'll be trying to play that."

Blues: Charles Piutau, Frank Halai, Rene Ranger, Francis Saili, George Moala, Chris Noakes, Piri Weepu; Peter Saili, Luke Braid, Steven Luatua, Ali Williams (c), Culum Retallick, Charlie Faumuina, James Parsons, Tom McCartney. Reserves: Quentin MacDonald, Angus Ta'avao, Ofa Tu'ungafasi, Liaki Moli, Ronald Raaymakers, Sean Polwart, Kane Barrett, Joe Edwards, Bryn Hall, Jackson Willison, Baden Kerr, Marty McKenzie, Pita Ahki.

- Fairfax Media

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