Preview: Blues v Reds

Doug Howlett 1582057885
If the Blues can win enough good ball their backs should be too good, but winning that possession is the issue.

VENUE & TIME: Eden Park, Auckland, Saturday February 24, 19:35 NZT.

HEAD TO HEAD: Played 11 � Blues 5, Reds 5, drawn 1.

LAST TIME: February 25, 2006 (Brisbane) � Reds 20-21 Blues.

WALKING WOUNDED: The Blues came through last weekend's bruising clash at Wellington without any serious injuries, although Greg Rawlinson was seeing stars for a while after copping a swinging arm. The Reds are missing Hugh McMeniman (ankle, 4-6 weeks), Lloyd Johansson (suspension, 2 weeks), Greg Holmes (shoulder, 2-3 weeks) and Stephen Moore, who is gone for at least a month with a knee injury.

FORM: The Blues won their first two matches and dropped the third by a single point, although they made too many errors at Wellington for David Nucifora's peace of mind. The set pieces are still a worry and are sure to be targeted by a strong Reds pack. Out wide the Blues are capable of taking backline defences apart and often threaten to do so. The Reds game is all about forward power and they have been recycling possession through phase after phase, although not often showing much idea about what to do next. The Reds backline is a mere appendage to the pack and has atrophied from lack of use; the only try by a Reds back this year has come from a charge-down.

WHO'S HOT: The Blues were too inconsistent through the game for anyone to be considered hot against the Hurricanes, although Anthony Tuitavake and Doug Howlett had their moments. Actually, most of the team had their moments but some of those moments were bad ones. The Reds forwards, well led by John Roe, are good, although whether their scrum is the juggernaut that Eddie Jones is suggesting remains to be seen � perhaps it has just gone well against three teams that have not scrummed properly. You need a programme to find out who's playing in jerseys 11-15 for the Reds, because you won't see them with ball in hand. Clinton Schifcofske (that's him in No 15) has kicked for goal well this year.

WE THINK: If the Blues let the Reds forwards dominate, the visitors could win it providing they have sufficient chances to kick penalty goals. If the Blues win about 40 percent of possession � as long as it's quality ball � the home backs will be too slick for the Reds. We think the Blues will get over the line, but only by a 1-12 margin.

TEAMS:

Blues: 1 � Saimone Taumoepeau, 2 � Derren Witcombe, 3 � John Afoa, 4 � Greg Rawlinson, 5 � Troy Flavell (captain), 6 � Justin Collins, 7 � Daniel Braid, 8 � Jerome Kaino, 9 � Steve Devine, 10 � Isa Nacewa, 11 � Anthony Tuitavake, 12 � Luke McAlister, 13 � Isaia Toeava, 14 � Doug Howlett, 15 � Ben Atiga.

Reserves: 16 � Chris Heard, 17 � Nick White, 18 � Anthony Boric, 19 � Angus Macdonald, 20 � David Gibson, 21 � Sam Tuitupou, 22 � Rudi Wulf.

Reds: 1 � Greg Holmes, 2 � Sean Hardman, 3 � Rodney Blake, 4 � James Horwill, 5 � Hugh McMeniman, 6 � Mitchell Chapman, 7 � David Croft, 8 � John Roe (captain), 9 � Nic Berry, 10 � Berrick Barnes, 11 � Peter Hynes, 12 � Lloyd Johansson, 13 � Ben Tune, 14 � Henari Veratau, 15 � Clinton Schifcofske.

Reserves: 16 � Stephen Moore, 17 � Ben Coutts, 18 � Ed O�Donoghue, 19 � Tom McVerry, 20 � Will Genia, 21 � Quade Cooper, 22 � Charlie Fetoai.

REFEREE: Willie Roos
Doug Howlett 1582057885