Preview: Blues v Brumbies

The Brumbies have been in good touch in South Africa and a crunch game looms at Eden Park.

VENUE & TIME: Eden Park, Auckland, Saturday March l8, 19.30

HEAD TO HEAD: Played 12 - Blues 7, Brumbies 5.

LAST TIME: Arpil 2, 2005 (Auckland) - Blues 17 - 0 Brumbies.

WALKING WOUNDED: Jeremy Paul is still troubled by a torn calf muscle and while back running he is unlikely to play for several weeks yet. Wing Peter Owens has also been troubled by an ankle injury. Fullback Adam Ashley-Cooper has had a quick recovery from his strained ankle ligaments and has been selected. The Blues
have had a week off with the bye. Doug Howlett's hamstring has kept him out of contention while Daniel Braid has returned from injury. Luke McAlister has still not recovered sufficiently to be considered.

FORM: The Brumbies have been in outstanding touch, and did well on their South African tour. Still unbeaten in the competition they have had a trip back from Durban, carrying on through to Auckland which could upset, while they will be without Matt Giteau who is in the Australian Sevens team. The Blues are desperate having had only one win so far.

WHO'S HOT: Centre Stirling Mortlock is playing outstanding rugby at the moment and will be a big threat for the Blues' defences. Wing Mark Gerrard has been in good touch while halfback George Gregan continues to thrive. Captain Keven Mealamu continues to thrive despite the woes of the side while mid-fielder Rua Tipoki is a key contributor to the backline.

WE THINK: The confidence of the Brumbies will make them a formidable opponent, but the game will also be a terrific test of the resolve of the Blues who did better in their match with the Crusaders than the final score suggests. But favouritism has to rest with the Australians who have had a great start to the season.

The teams are:

Blues: 1 - Tony Woodcock, 2 - Keven Mealamu (Captain), 3 - John Afoa, 4 - Greg Rawlinson, 5 - Ali Williams, 6 - Troy Flavell, 7 - Daniel Braid, 8 - Nick Williams, 9 - John Senio, 10 - Tasesa Lavea, 11 - Joe Rokocoko, 12 - Rua Tipoki, 13 - Anthony Tuitavaike, 14 - Vili Waqaseduadua, 15 - Isa Nacewa,

Reserves: 16 - Tim Dow, 17 - Saimone Taumoepeau, 18 - Kurtis Haiu, 19 - Angus MacDonald, 20 - Steve Devine, 21 - Ben Atiga, 22 - Brent Ward

Brumbies: 1 - Bill Young, 2 - James McCormack, 3 - Nic Henderson, 4 - Alistair Campbell, 5 - Mark Chisholm, 6 - Daniel Heenan, 7 - George Smith, 8 - Jone Tawake, 9 - George Gregan, 10 - Stephen Larkham, 11 - Mark Gerrard, 12 - Gene Fairbanks, 13 - Stirling Mortlock (Captain), 14 - Clyde Rathbone, 15 - Adam Ashley-Cooper.

Reserves: 16 - Saia Faingaa, 17 - Guy Shepherdson, 18 - Adam Wallace-Harrison, 19 -Julian Salvi, 20 - Patrick Phibbs, 21 - Joel Wilson, 22 - Ben Batger.