Super Rugby: Crusaders travel to face Auckland Blues at Eden Park
A year on from their 2013 Auckland showdown, the Blues welcome last year's semi-finalists the Crusaders to Eden Park.
Last Updated: 26/02/14 11:57am
The pair meet in Round 3 for the second time in as many years, but the result was less than flattering for Todd Blackadder's men last term.
Despite finishing six places above the Blues come July, the Crusaders opened their campaign by failing to cross the line in a 34-15 reverse in Auckland.
Blackadder's side were in full flow when the Blues visited Christchurch however, as Ryan Crotty and Owen Franks crossed in their 23-3 victory.
It is not the Crusaders' first outing this year, after their 2014 season started in defeat with defending champions the Chiefs prevailing 18-10 in Christchurch last weekend.
Similarly, the Blues suffered a 29-21 defeat to the Hurricanes in a seven-try thriller in Dunedin as the New Zealand conference got underway.
Kirwan has made four changes to the side which suffered defeat last time out, including the introduction of 20-year-old Simon Hickey, who makes his Super Rugby debut at fly-half in place of Chris Noakes.
"We think it's time to give him a chance," Kirwan said. "If we want to create internal competition then we need to start that now."
Hickey is joined by a number of youngsters in the starting XV, with U20 team-mate Patrick Tuipulotu and 18-year-old wing Tevita Li promoted from the bench to start against the Crusaders.
With Francis Saili ruled out of action with a foot injury, George Moala shifts into centre as Li makes his run-on debut on the left wing.
Meanwhile, Crusaders head coach Blackadder has dropped All Blacks full-back Israel Dagg to the bench for Friday's trip to Auckland.
Dagg's omission is one of four changes to the side that lost last weekend's opener with Colin Slade, who has recovered from a calf injury, coming in to take the No 15 jersey.
Kieran Read returns at No 8 to captain the side in his first start, joining Richie McCaw and George Whitelock in the back row.
Rob Thompson becomes the 175th Crusaders debutant as he replaces Johnny McNicholl on the right wing; while Tyler Bleyendaal, who missed five penalty attempts last weekend, loses his starting berth to Tom Taylor.
Blues: 15 Piutau, 14 Halai, 13 Moala, 12 Willison, 11 Li, 10 Hickey, 9 Weepu, 1 Prattley, 2 Parsons, 3 Faumuina, 4 Tuipulotu, 5 Donnelly, 6 Luatua, 7 Braid (capt), 8 Saili.
Replacements: 16 Mealamu, 17 Woodcock, 18 Ta'avao, 19 Moli, 20 O'Connor/Manihera, 21 Hall, 22 Marshall, 23 Ahki.
Crusaders: 15 Slade, 14 Thompson, 13 Lee-Lo, 12 Crotty, 11 Tuitavake, 10 Taylor, 9 Ellis, 1 Perry, 2 Flynn, 3 Franks, 4 Whitelock, 5 Bird, 6 Whitelock, 7 McCaw, 8 Read (capt).
Replacements: 16 Funnell, 17 Crockett, 18 Laulala, 19 Romano, 20 Todd, 21 Heinz, 22 Whitelock, 23 Dagg.