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Akira Ioane demoted as Blues ring changes

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 8/03/2017

Bollocking No.8 Akira Ioane has been demoted to the Blues bench and delivered a reminder of the work rate needed in Super Rugby.

The 21-year-old is one of seven starting players to make way for Saturday's match against the Highlanders at Eden Park, their first game of the season.

Six of the new starters are All Blacks, with coach Tana Umaga saying plenty hangs over the fixture following last week's 41-26 loss to the Chiefs.

He said his players dropped their standards in Hamilton from the opening-week thumping of the Melbourne Rebels.

Ioane received the most stinging assessment from Umaga, who said openside flanker Blake Gibson too often waged a one-man fight to slow down the Chiefs' ball.

"It probably wasn't Akira's best game, and he knows that," Umaga said.

"It's just his all-out work, working for the entire time he's out there.

"It was a very intense game and they put pressure on us in the forward pack."

Co-captain James Parsons makes his first start, replacing Matt Moulds in one of five changes to the pack. Parsons played 40 minutes last week for a Blues development team after shaking off ongoing concussion symptoms.

Veteran All Blacks flanker Jerome Kaino, the team's other co-captain, makes his first start. He replaces Steven Luatua, who is beginning a four-week ban following his high tackle against the Chiefs.

Other changes to the pack feature promotions for All Blacks Patrick Tuipulotu, Charlie Faumuina and uncapped No.8 Murphy Taramai in his maiden Super Rugby start. They replace Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, Sione Mafileo and Ioane respectively.

The backline takes on a powerful appearance with the introduction of George Moala at second five-eighth for Piers Francis and Rene Ranger on the left wing in place of Melani Nanai.

Umaga says his players took plenty from the Chiefs defeat.

"Individually, I think they realise the intensity and the step up with New Zealand teams."

Blues: Michael Co+llins, Matt Duffie, Rieko Ioane, George Moala, Rene Ranger, Ihaia West, Augustine Pulu, Murphy Taramai, Blake Gibson, Jerome Kaino (co-capt), Patrick Tuipulotu, Jimmy Tupou, Charlie Faumuina, James Parsons (co-capt), Pauliasi Manu. Reserves: Matt Moulds, Sam Prattley, Ofa Tu'ungafasi, Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, Akira Ioane/Kara Pryor, Billy Guyton, Piers Francis, Melani Nanai.

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