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West out, Francis in as Blues first-five

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 14/03/2017 Angelo Risso
Ihaia West. © Dave Rowland/Getty Images Ihaia West.

Blues first-five Ihaia West has been dumped from the starting XV for his Super Rugby side's clash with the Crusaders on Friday.

The 25-year-old playmaker had a night to forget against the Highlanders on Saturday, turning over the ball three times as the Blues dourly lost 16-12.

In his place will step Piers Francis, who Blues boss Tana Umaga felt had injected much-needed offensive thrust off the bench last week.

"We believe Ihaia has the skills, it's just making sure there's that performance, what you put out there on the track," Umaga told reporters.

"Piers gets an opportunity now to do the same thing and he's going to be in the middle of the cauldron."

Elsewhere, Umaga has switched up his loose forward trio for the battle in Canterbury, with Test flanker Jerome Kaino to play at No.8.

Jimmy Tupou will switch from lock to Kaino's blindside role, while Gerard Cowley-Tuioti slots back into the second row next to Patrick Tuipulotu.

Umaga said the changes were made to nullify the Crusaders' fearsome set-piece ability, particularly with all-Test locking duo Sam Whitelock and Scott Barrett.

"We've got to try and match that and obviously ours isn't going too well, so we want to give ourselves more options," Umaga said.

"We just want to add some more height, it's nothing against what Murphy (Taramai) did, we thought he worked his butt off."

In the backline, Melani Nanai returns to the left edge in place of Rene Ranger, who has dropped out of the matchday XXIII entirely.

The former All Black struggled on the wing against the Highlanders and would be redeployed in midfield if George Moala or Rieko Ioane become unavailable.

Former New Zealand under-20s midfield back TJ Faiane has been named on the bench after overcoming several long-term injuries and will likely make his debut.

"Bringing (Rene) off the bench probably wouldn't serve us, we've got an opportunity for him to play 80 minutes in the development game," Umaga said.

"We want to see the best of him."

Having kicked off their campaign with a thumping win over the Rebels, the Blues have struggled to assert themselves in losses to the Chiefs and Highlanders.

Umaga said Friday's encounter would be no easier against an unbeaten Crusaders side, despite the expected absence of fullback Israel Dagg.

"These derby games, I don't think there's a drop in level at all - we've got to make sure we handle that," Umaga said.

"We've had some meetings now, the talking is done and now we have to have actions behind the words."

BLUES: Michael Collins, Matt Duffie, Rieko Ioane, George Moala, Melani Nanai, Piers Francis, Augustine Pulu, Jerome Kaino, Blake Gibson, Jimmy Tupou, Patrick Tuipulotu, Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, Ofa Tu'ungafasi, James Parsons (c), Pauliasi Manu. RESERVES: Matt Moulds, Sam Prattley, Sione Mafileo, Akira Ioane, Murphy Taramai, Billy Guyton, Ihaia West, TJ Faiane.

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