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Super Rugby preview: Blues host Reds at Eden Park on Friday
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The Blues host a struggling Reds outfit at Eden Park on Friday looking to extend their unbeaten record at home this season.
The Reds have won their last four matches against the Blues and have limited the New Zealand side to fewer than 14 points in their last three.
But on current form the Blues must be considered the favourites, coming off a morale-boosting win over the Waratahs last week.
The Reds have lost their last three games and have only won once in their last six fixtures. Their only success on the road this season came against the Brumbies way back in Round 2.
The Blues have to win to keep up with the pace in an ultra-competitive New Zealand conference. Going into Round 12, Sir John Kirwan's side sit at the bottom of their conference with the five Kiwi teams separated by just six points and defeat here is likely to see the Blues' play-off hopes take a serious knock.
The hosts have made only one change. Luke Braid misses out through injury and Brendan O'Connor takes his place, with Peter Saili switching to the blindside and Jerome Kaino slotting in at No 8.
"Luke's been playing well for us and is totally committed but Brendon is an outstanding replacement for him," Kirwan said.
"He's a very good player in his own right so it's a really good opportunity for him."
For the Reds, fly-half Quade Cooper will reach a career milestone with his 100th cap for the 2011 champions.
Cooper, who made his debut for the Reds in 2007, said: "I'm very proud. To play one game for Queensland is a great honour, so to get the opportunity to stay in the game long enough to play 100 games, I'm very fortunate.
"First and foremost for me is focusing on getting a win for the team. I'd much rather the team success come before my own accolades."
Reds head coach Richard Graham has made four changes to his starting line-up.
In the forwards, Greg Holmes and Liam Gill return, with Holmes back at tighthead prop and Gill starting at openside flanker for the first time since injuring his hamstring five weeks ago.
James Slipper has shifted to loosehead, with Ben Daley and Beau Robinson moving to the bench.
In the backs, Rod Davies and Anthony Fainga'a return to the starting XV. Davies will go to left wing and Fainga'a to inside centre, with Mike Harris moving to fullback. Jamie-Jerry Taulagi and Ben Lucas are on the bench.
"We've made the changes based on performance but also on the team we're playing," Graham said.
"Their scrum is very experienced with an All Blacks front row. We have made the appropriate changes we feel necessary to give us a strong platform in the early stages.
"Beau (Robinson) has performed very well for us as our starting openside, however with Liam's form prior to injury and as a genuine lineout option, I thought it was important to bring him straight into the starting side.
"With Anthony Fainga'a back in the midfield, his defence and work ethic is well regarded and he'll do a very good job for us there. Mike Harris at fullback provides us with a big body in the back three and also an alternative link to Quade.
"For this game, Rod's inclusion in the back three demonstrates a need for experience and he brings genuine speed."
You can see all the action live on Sky Sports 2HD from 8.30am.
Blues: 15 Piutau, 14 Halai, 13 Saili, 12 Nonu, 11 Visinia, 10 Hickey, 9 Hall; 1 Woodcock, 2 Mealamu (c), 3 Faumuina, 4 Tuipulotu, 5 Donnelly, 6 Saili, 7 O'Connor, 8 Kaino.
Replacements: 16 Parsons, 17 Tu'ungafasi, 18 Ta'avao, 19 Triggs, 20 Weepu, 21 Luatua, 22 West, 23 Moala.
Reds: 15 Harris, 14 Feauai-Sautia, 13 Tapuai, 12 A Fainga'a, 11 Davies, 10 Cooper, 9 Genia; 1 Slipper, 2 S Fainga'a, 3 Holmes, 4 Simmons, 5 Horwill (c), 6 Quirk, 7 Gill, 8 Schatz.
Replacements: 16 Hanson, 17 Daley, 18 Owen, 19 O'Donoghue, 20 Robinson, 21 Frisby, 22 Lucas, 23 Taulagi.
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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|
|06:05||Waratahs vs Western Force|
|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|
|06:35||Chiefs vs Crusaders|
|08:40||Melbourne Rebels vs Brumbies|
|15:05||Bulls vs Sharks|
|17:10||Lions vs Stormers|
|Friday 6th March|
|06:35||Chiefs vs Highlanders|
|08:40||Brumbies vs Western Force|
|Saturday 7th March|
|06:35||Blues vs Lions|
|08:40||Reds vs Waratahs|
Read the thoughts and opinions of Phil Edwards with skysports.com