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Blues v Reds: Teams
At Eden Park, Friday April 27, kick-off 8.35am
The Blues will be without Tony Woodcock for Friday's match against the Reds after the All Black prop suffered a calf strain at training.
The basement-dwellers' latest casualty means Tevita Mailau moves into the starting line-up to replace Woodcock and Auckland prop Angus Ta'avao will be the bench replacement.
In the absence of Keven Mealamu, Luke Braid will again captain the team.
Some positive news on the injury front is Rudi Wulf returns to the side this week after a shoulder injury kept him out of last week's match against the Highlanders.
All Blacks half-back Piri Weepu gets the number nine jersey, setting up a match-up with Wallaby Will Genia.
Digby Ioane will play his 50th game for the Reds when he returns from suspension at outside centre in Friday's hit-out with the Blues.
The Reds livewire makes a timely return from a five-week suspension and is one of two key backline figures returning to the matchday squad with centre Anthony Faingaa recovering from a foot injury to earn a place on the bench.
In the forwards Adam Wallace-Harrison and Eddie Quirk earn their place on the bench in place of injured lock Van Humphries and backrower Radike Samo.
The change means coach Ewen McKenzie will employ the same back row strategy he applied against the Brumbies three weeks ago whereby flankers Liam Gill and Beau Robinson commence the game in tandem before Quirk is injected later in the match.
The inclusion of Gill and Robinson pushes Scott Higginbotham to number eight in an otherwise unchanged forward pack which features a tight-five of Ben Daley, James Hanson, James Slipper, Rob Simmons and James Horwill.
In the backs, fly-half Ben Lucas will start the game in the number 10 jersey after playing 76 minutes at the position last week against the Stormers following the early loss of playmaker Sam Lane.
Lucas and Ioane are the sole changes to the starting backline with vice-captain Will Genia at scrum-half, Mike Harris at inside centre, Dom Shipperley and Rod Davies on the wings and Luke Morahan at full-back.
The Reds were successful in their two matches against the Blues in 2011, including a 30-13 victory in the Super Rugby Semi-Final at Suncorp Stadium.
However McKenzie is expecting a far tougher challenge against the Auckland based outfit this time round as the Blues endeavour to regroup from a disappointing 2012 campaign which has at this stage resulted in just one win.
"Friday night is an important game for both teams and we're fully aware of the challenge of going to Eden Park. It's also only a matter of time before the Blues click," said McKenzie.
"But we've got a lot to play for in this game and nor has our best Rugby been seen. It's an opportunity to get our season back on track and the group is excited by the challenge."
Blues: 15 Hadleigh Parkes, 14 George Moala, 13 Rene Ranger, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Rudi Wulf, 10 Gareth Anscombe, 9 Piri Weepu, 8 Peter Saili, 7 Luke Braid (c), 6 Daniel Braid, 5 Filo Paulo, 4 Ali Williams, 3 Charlie Faumuina, 2 Tom McCartney, 1 Tevita Mailau.
Replacements: 16 James Parsons, 17 Pauliasi Manu/Angus Ta'avao, 18 Liaki Moli, 19 Chris Lowrey, 20 Alby Mathewson, 21 Michael Hobbs, 22 Benson Stanley (one to be omitted).
Reds: 15 Luke Morahan, 14 Dom Shipperley, 13 Digby Ioane, 12 Mike Harris, 11 Rod Davies, 10 Ben Lucas, 9 Will Genia, 8 Scott Higginbotham, 7 Liam Gill, 6 Beau Robinson, 5 James Horwill (c), 4 Rob Simmons, 3 James Slipper, 2 James Hanson, 1 Ben Daley.
Replacements: 16 Albert Anae, 17 Greg Holmes, 18 Adam Wallace-Harrison, 19 Jake Schatz, 20 Ed Quirk, 21 Nick Frisby, 22 Anthony Faingaa.
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|Friday 13th February|
|06:35||Crusaders vs Melbourne Rebels|
|08:40||Brumbies vs Reds|
|17:10||Lions vs Hurricanes|
|Saturday 14th February|
|06:35||Blues vs Chiefs|
|15:05||Sharks vs Cheetahs|
|17:05||Bulls vs Stormers|
|Sunday 15th February|
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|Friday 20th February|
|06:35||Chiefs vs Brumbies|
|08:40||Melbourne Rebels vs Waratahs|
|17:10||Bulls vs Hurricanes|
|Saturday 21st February|
|06:35||Highlanders vs Crusaders|
|08:40||Reds vs Western Force|
|15:05||Stormers vs Blues|
|17:10||Sharks vs Lions|
|Friday 27th February|
|06:35||Highlanders vs Reds|
|11:00||Western Force vs Hurricanes|
|17:10||Cheetahs vs Blues|
|Saturday 28th February|
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|08:40||Melbourne Rebels vs Brumbies|
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|17:10||Lions vs Stormers|
|Friday 6th March|
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|Saturday 7th March|
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Read the thoughts and opinions of Phil Edwards with skysports.com