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Blues to tackle Rebels with new-look pack

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 21/02/2017

A new-look front five will feature for the Blues in their Super Rugby opener against the Rebels in Melbourne on Thursday.

Although there's only 19 Blues caps between them, two are proven performers, with prop Pauliasi Manu and new captain Jimmy Tupou boasting 91 Super Rugby appearances between them.

Manu, returning to the Blues after four years at the Chiefs, anchors a scrum with North Harbour prop Sione Mafileo and Northland captain Matt Moulds.

Tupou, with 37 appearances for the Crusaders, takes over the reins as captain in his first outing for the Blues, with co-captains James Parsons and Jerome Kaino not considered for selection this week.

The front five started well against the Chiefs, with coach Tana Umaga looking for a go-forward platform from his pack to provide a foundation for a young backline.

Halfback Augustine Pulu also makes his Blues debut after collecting 51 caps for the Chiefs and playing for the All Blacks Sevens last year.

Ihaia West, Piers Francis, Melani Nanai and Matt Duffie were backline regulars last year, while young All Black Rieko Ioane starts in his preferred spot at centre and Otago's Michael Collins will make his Super Rugby debut at fullback.

Three All Blacks will take their place in the Blues' reserves - Charlie Faumuina, George Moala and the explosive Rene Ranger, back after a long-term knee injury.

Sonny Bill Williams is among those not considered for selection as he continues his recovery from a ruptured achilles suffered at the Rio Olympics.

He is joined by Parsons, Kaino, Patrick Tuipulotu, Billy Guyton, Declan O'Connell and Stephen Perofeta.

Blues: Michael Collins, Matt Duffie, Rieko Ioane, Piers Francis, Melani Nanai, Ihaia West, Augustine Pulu, Akira Ioane, Blake Gibson, Steven Luatua, Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, Jimmy Tupou, Sione Mafileo, Matt Moulds, Pauliasi Manu.

Reserves: Hame Faiva, Sam Prattley, Charlie Faumuina, Scott Scrafton, Murphy Taramai, Sam Nock, George Moala, Rene Ranger.

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