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Francis cleared to start for Blues

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 23/05/2017 Angelo Risso

Blues first-five Piers Francis is symptom-free and ready to pull on the No.10 jumper against the Chiefs on Friday despite being knocked unconscious in last week's Super Rugby loss to the Stormers in South Africa.

Francis has spent much of the week undergoing concussion tests in Auckland after a thumping head-high tackle in Cape Town, which knocked him out cold.

The culprit, Stormers and ex-Highlanders midfielder Shaun Treeby, has since been handed a three-match Super Rugby ban for the crunching blow.

However, Blues boss Tana Umaga told reporters the 26-year-old Englishman had passed all cognitive tests with flying colours and was free to start at Eden Park.

He has also avoided any additional symptoms.

It will be the ninth time this campaign that Francis wears the No.10 shirt, having started 2017 as second-fiddle to Ihaia West.

"It's not something we take lightly, but again, he's fulfilled the process, made himself available - the staff have left no stone unturned," Umaga said.

"We're very comfortable with the decision taken by the staff, and so is Piers."

Elsewhere, the home side have made two starting changes for their final Kiwi derby of 2017, with Michael Collins promoted to fullback and Patrick Tuipulotu to lock.

The pair had both started last week's 30-22 loss on the bench, with Collins usurping Melani Nanai and Tuipulotu ousting Gerard Cowley-Tuioti.

Matt Duffie has also been named in his customary wing role after last weeks' red card was rescinded by the SANZAAR judiciary, while former age-group star Stephen Perofeta has overcome an ankle injury to potentially make his Blues debut from the bench.

"We'll see how it all pans out in the game, but it's an opportunity for the young man and I'm sure he's looking forward to it," Umaga said.

The Blues have an awful record in the Battle of the Bombays, losing their last 11 Super Rugby outings against the Chiefs.

The closest result during that streak was an 11-8 loss when the teams last met at Eden Park three years ago.

With his team on the verge of Super Rugby elimination after suffering a sixth loss last week, Umaga said he was motivated by a miserable 0-5 record in New Zealand conference matches this year.

"This is our final derby game of the regular season, and I know the team will want to produce their best performance of the season," he said.

The Chiefs also had a winning run snapped last week when they lost 31-24 to the unbeaten Crusaders in Suva, suffering their second defeat of the campaign.

Blues: Michael Collins, Matt Duffie, George Moala, Sonny Bill Williams, Rieko Ioane, Piers Francis, Augustine Pulu, Akira Ioane, Blake Gibson, Steven Luatua, Scott Scrafton, Patrick Tuipulotu, Charlie Faumuina, James Parsons (capt), Ofa Tu'ungafasi. Reserves: Epalahame Faiva, Alex Hodgman, Sione Mafileo, Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, Kara Pryor, Sam Nock, Stephen Perofeta, TJ Faiane.

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