Super Rugby: Blues host Chiefs at Eden Park
Last Updated: 09/07/14 11:32am
The Blues face a daunting challenge when they take on the Chiefs in the final regular Super Rugby round of the season at Eden Park on Friday.
Sir John Kirwan's side have to beat the back-to-back champions by 38 points whilst also denying them a bonus point to give themselves a fighting chance of making the top six and a play-off place.
But Kirwan is optimistic about his team's chances heading into Friday's clash.
"I think we've improved as a rugby team this year," he said. "We're getting that consistency and we're still learning what it takes to be a winning franchise. If there's one team in this competition that can do it on Friday night it's us.
"We scored five tries in 25 minutes against the Lions and if things bounce our way we can score points like no other football team and when we're confident we're really scary.
"We got our bonus point after 18 minutes against the Force. Obviously this is a different football team we're coming up against on Friday but there's a lot for us to play for.
"The boys are very disappointed that we're not in the play-offs automatically, we're one point away from just having to just win the football game but we're up for the challenge."
The Blues will be without veteran All Blacks prop Tony Woodcock and captain Luke Braid for the game.
Woodcock suffered a shoulder injury during last weekend's loss to the Crusaders and with a six-day turnaround Kirwan felt he would not be fully fit and it was not worth risking him.
Sam Prattley will replace Woodcock at loosehead prop while Brendon O'Connor comes in for openside flanker Braid, who has been carrying a shoulder injury all season and will undergo surgery on Wednesday.
Charles Piutau returns to his favoured position of full-back in a reshuffled Blues back-line, with Tevita Li coming onto the left wing in place of George Moala while Lolagi Visinia is hoping to overcome a haematoma to his quad and is currently bracketed with Moala.
Francis Saili also comes in at centre for Pita Ahki who has joined the New Zealand Sevens team ahead of the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow later this month.
Chiefs boss Dave Rennie has made only one change to his starting line-up as the defending champions look to sneak into the play-offs.
The Chiefs are currently in eighth but level on points with the Brumbies and the Force, while the Hurricanes are just a point ahead of them and the Highlanders two points in front.
With the Brumbies facing the Force, the Hurricanes having completed their fixtures and the Highlanders facing second-placed Crusaders, the door remains ajar for the Waikato-based franchise.
Bundee Aki comes in at inside centre for the clash, replacing Charlie Ngatai who is out with a shoulder injury.
Hooker Nathan Harris starts on the bench, where he is joined by Dwayne Sweeney in the only other change to the reserves.
Blues: 15 Piutau, 14 Visinia/Moala, 13 Saili, 12 Nonu, 11 Li, 10 West, 9 Hall; 1 Prattley, 2 Mealamu (c), 3 Faumuina, 4 Tuipulotu, 5 Donnelly, 6 Luatua, 7 O'Connor, 8 Kaino.
Replacements: 16 Parsons, 17 Tu'ungafasi, 18 Ta'avao, 19 Triggs, 20 Saili, 21 Gibson-Park, 22 Willison, 23 Moala/Nikoro.
Chiefs: 15 Marshall, 14 Tikoirotuma, 13 Nanai-Williams, 12 Aki, 11 Lowe, 10 Cruden (c), 9 Kerr-Barlow; 1 Mackintosh, 2 Schwalger, 3 Tameifuna, 4 Fitzgerald, 5 Retallick, 6 Messam, 7 Latimer, 8 Squire.
Replacements: 16 Harris, 17 Manu, 18 Barrett, 19 Symons, 20 Koloamatangi, 21 Pulu, 22 Anscombe, 23 Sweeney.
Watch Blues v Chiefs live from 8:35am on Sky Sports 3HD
Super Rugby 2014 Round 19
Waratahs capped a table-topping season with a comfortable 34-3 victory over the Queensland Reds in Brisbane on Saturday.
The Crusaders cruised to a 34-8 victory over the Highlanders in Christchurch as they clinched a home semi-final spot.
Matt Toomua notched a hat-trick of tries as the Brumbies beat the Western Force 47-25 to make the Super Rugby play-offs.