WELLINGTON (Reuters) - Auckland Blues coach Tana Umaga has taken notice of the impact his All Blacks made off the bench last week against the Waikato Chiefs and elevated them to the starting lineup for Saturday’s Super Rugby clash with the Otago Highlanders.
The Blues were reduced to 14 men when Steven Luatua was sent off for a dangerous tackle on the stroke of halftime of their 41-26 loss to the Waikato Chiefs last week.
Umaga sent on All Blacks forwards Patrick Tuipulotu, Jerome Kaino and Charlie Faumuina in the second half and their influence was noticeable as the Blues kept the Chiefs scoreless for the final 25 minutes while scoring three tries.
All three will start the game at Eden Park against the winless Highlanders, while centre George Moala and utility Rene Ranger have also come into the starting side.
“Jerome and Patrick had delayed starts while Charlie has worked his way to excellent form, and both George and Rene impressed when they came on last week against the Chiefs,” Umaga said in a statement on Thursday.
“There’s good depth in this squad and so there is going to be times when strong players won’t get starts always.”
Blues hooker James Parsons has also returned after recovering from concussion that kept him out of the All Blacks’ end of year tour and will lead the side against a Highlanders outfit desperate to get their season back on track.
The 2015 champions have lost their first two games, against the Chiefs and Canterbury Crusaders, and have been beset by injuries.
Nine of their squad, including All Blacks loose forward Liam Squire and fullback Ben Smith, are unavailable.
They also lost midfield back Jason Emery for the season to a torn Achilles’ tendon earlier this week.
Elliot Dixon will again lead the team for the Dunedin-based side, with one-test All Black Luke Whitelock replacing Squire at number eight.
Reporting by Greg Stutchbury; Editing by Nick Mulvenney