Thursday, February 23, 2012

Blues, Crusaders to kick off season 23 February 2012,

The opening match of the Super Rugby season between the Auckland Blues and Canterbury Crusaders will see the return of a large number of All Blacks to Eden Park, scene of their World Cup triumph four months ago.
The Blues and Crusaders squads collectively contain almost 20 internationals, giving star power to the match that launches the longest-ever Super Rugby season.

Notably absent from the Crusaders squad are All Blacks flyhalf Dan Carter and captain Richie McCaw, whose last duty on Eden Park was to hold aloft the Webb Ellis Trophy after New Zealand's Cup final win over France.

Canterbury's starting line-up includes prop Ben Franks, lock Sam Whitelock and winger Israel Dagg, who were all starters in the World Cup final. Tyler Blyendaal will start in the No 10 jersey in Carter's place.

The Blues have named hooker Keven Mealamu as captain in a pack with contains lock Ali Williams and flanker Jerome Kaino, New Zealand's Player of the Year. Kaino played all but a minute of New Zealand's seven World Cup matches.

The Blues have found no place in their starting line-up for scrumhalf Piri Weepu. Instead, Alby Mathewson will start at No 9 in a new scrumhalf pairing with Michael Hobbs which has developed in preseason matches.

"There is a bit of an edge around this time of the season and certainly for a game of this magnitude," Blues coach Pat Lam said. "It has been their longest break for a lot of them, a number have been away from rugby for months and now it is the real deal so there is some excitement and edge about this week."

Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder has named All Blacks lock Tom Donnelly to make his debut for the franchise in anticipation of a tough set-piece contest.

"What we have seen in pre-season is a lot more lineouts and a lot more scrums," Blackadder said. "Last year we were seeing an average of about 10 to 12 lineouts in a game. At the moment we are getting that after 40 minutes."

Luke Morahan will play at fullback and Mike Harris at flyhalf for the defending champions Reds who face a tough test of their ambition to become the first Australian team to win back-to-back titles. They take on bitter interstate rivals the Waratahs in their opening match at Sydney on Saturday.

Wallabies No 8 Radike Samo has been named on the bench, allowing young backrower Jake Schwarz to start.


"Radike has plenty of X-factor and venom. He is still very valuable for us an can come on when the teams are tired to make his impact," Reds coach Ewen Mckenzie said.

Daniel Halangahu will captain the Waratahs from flyhalf after Wallabies star Berrick Barnes was ruled out of Saturday's match with a groin strain.

"Berrick and Daniel shared the captaincy and the No 10 duties in both our trial matches and both were well placed to lead us in the first match," coach Michael Foley said. "We are confident in Daniel's ability as a player and a leader."

Off-season recruits Adam Ashley-Cooper and Sarel Pretorius will make their Waratahs Super Rugby debuts while Brackin Karauria-Henry and Tom Kingston have been named on the wings following injuries to Lachie Turner and Drew Mitchell.

In other first round matches, the Brumbies will play the Western Force in Canberra, the Chiefs will play the Highlanders in Hamilton, the Stormers will play the Hurricanes in Cape Town and the Lions will play the Cheetahs in Johannesburg.

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