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Preview: Blues v Reds

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Thursday, April 26, 2012    Sportal.co.nz    Getty Images

VENUE & TIME: Eden Park, Auckland, Friday April 27, 19:35 NZT.
HEAD TO HEAD: Played 17 - Blues 8, Reds 8, Draws 1.
LAST TIME: July 2, 2011 (Brisbane-Semi-final) Blues 13-Reds 30.

WALKING WOUNDED: Tony Woodcock's Anzac Day departure was a blow for a side already suffering the absence of skipper and hooker Keven Mealamu with a similar calf injury to that of Woodcock. Still out also is Anthony Boric with a neck injury. The Reds have lost Sam Lane with a knee injury while Ben Tapuai has a collarbone injury and lock Van Humphries has an arm injury. But back from injury for the Reds are wing Digby Ioane and midfielder Anthony Faingaa.


FORM:
Blues:
Round 5: lost to Hurricanes 25-26 (h)
Round 6: bye
Round 7: lost to Rebels 23-34 (a)
Round 8: lost to Sharks 23-29 (h)
Round 9: lost to Highlanders 27-30 (a)

Reds:
Round 5: lost to Bulls 8-61 (a)
Round 6: lost to Force 19-45 (a)
Round 7: beat Brumbies 20-13 (h)
Round 8: bye
Round 9: lost to Stormers 13-23 (h)

The Blues have been suffering the eternal frustration of teams down on confidence, and as a consequence, luck, with opportunities to claim victories in their last four matches. However, the sort of errors that would normally be non-existent have been a constant frustration: dropped passes, wrong options, untidy set-piece places, the works. Having had the benefit of a superb scrummaging display from Woodcock to use as the basis of an attack on the Reds, it is symptomatic of the Blues's season that Woodcock is out due to injury.

The Reds know exactly the feelings the Blues have, although they have managed a better win-loss ratio this season but that was largely in the earliest stages of the competition. Since then it has been much harder with hidings by the Bulls and Force especially hard to take. However, the return of key players from injury, especially five-eighths Mike Harris and wing Ioane are a decided boost for the side and should do much to bolster prospects.


WHO'S HOT:

So low have the Blues sunk in their play that hot probably best equates to reputation more than performance at the moment. Woodcock had elevated himself into that realm last week but his injury is a cool blow. Captain and flanker Luke Braid does continue to impress and while he hasn't been as flashy as other opensides around the country, that probably has a lot to do with the extra work he has to do to keep his side operating. First five-eighths Gareth Anscombe continues to develop and it will be interesting to see if the threat posed by midfielders Ma'a Nonu and Rene Ranger can be effective against the improving Reds defence.

Lock James Horwill has had a tough year, firstly as the Reds have had to defend their championship status, but secondly with a wave of injuries that could sink most sides. However, he has maintained a tough countenance and is central to his side hanging onto the Conference front-runners. Lock Rob Simmons, and flanker Scott Higginbotham are key contributors who never shirk their work. Halfback Will Genia can be troublesome at the best of times and if his side can gain some parity against the Blues he can be expected to dictate play. With last week's return to action Mike Harris will also be a key playmaker at first five-eighths while also putting his local knowledge into effect with any Blues transgressions in their own half.

WE THINK: The Blues are so desperate that they will see this game, and the Reds' lack of recent form as a chance to get their second win of the season. However, it won't be as easy as that. The quality of returning players for the Reds is impressive and they have their own motivations in the game. Reds by three.

TEAMS:

Blues 1.Tevita Mailau, 2.Tom McCartney, 3.Charlie Faumuina, 4.Ali Williams, 5.Filo Paulo, 6.Daniel Braid, 7.Luke Braid (captain), 8.Peter Saili, 9.Piri Weepu, 10.Gareth Anscombe, 11.Rudi Wulf, 12.Ma'a Nonu, 13.Rene Ranger, 14.George Moala, 15.Hadleigh Parkes.

Reserves: 16.James Parsons, 17. Pauliaisi Manu/Angus Ta'avao, 18.Liaki Moli, 19.Chris Lowrey, 20.Alby Mathewson, 21.Michael Hobbs, 22.Benson Stanley.

Reds(TBC)1. Ben Daley, 2. James Hanson, 3. James Slipper, 4. Rob Simmons, 5. James Horwill (capt), 6. Scott Higginbotham, 7. Beau Robinson, 8. Radike Samo, 9. Will Genia, 10. Mike Harris, 11. Rod Davies, 12. Anthony Faingaa, 13.Digby Ioane, 14. Dom Shipperley, 15. Luke Morahan.

Replacements: 16. Albert Anae, 17. Greg Holmes, 18. Adam Wallace-Harrison, 19. Jake Schatz, 20. Liam Gill, 21. Nick Frisby, 22. Jono Lance.

REFEREE:Craig Joubert