Blues v Crusaders: Teams
At Eden Park, Friday February 24, kick-off 6.35am
Last Updated: 22/02/12 8:48am
Michael Hobbs has edged out World Cup winner Piri Weepu for the Blues No.10 shirt for the Super Rugby opener against the Crusaders at Eden Park on Friday.
Weepu will start the mouth-watering encounter on the bench, with former Highlander Hobbs having earned his place after a stellar pre-season.
"Michael Hobbs impressed in the last game and throughout the pre-season and he's in great nick so he will start at 10," coach Pat Lam said.
"There was really good competition for the No.10 jersey and Piri showed his class but at this stage we feel it is best to bring him off the bench."
Flanker Chris Lowrey and winger David Raikuna are also rewarded for their form in the build up to the new campaign with places in the starting XV, while Tom McCartney, who is usually a hooker, fills in at loosehead prop.
On the bench, Brad Mika is poised to make his first appearance for the Blues since 2005 while Hadleigh Parkes will make his debut if the Auckland centre is called upon.
Former New Zealand Under-20s skipper Tyler Bleyendaal will fill in for the injured Dan Carter for the Crusaders.
Bleyendaal earned rave reviews in pre-season and he will look to carry this form into the opener against the Blues.
Coach Todd Blackadder has also named Tom Marshall at full-back, with Israel Dagg switching to the wing.
In the pack, hooker Quentin MacDonald and prop Ben Franks are preferred to All Blacks Corey Flynn and Owen Franks, while former Highlander Tom Donnelly gets his first start for the Crusaders in the second row.
Donnelly gets the nod ahead of Luke Romano and Ross Kennedy for a place in the pack alongside All Black Sam Whitelock, with his line-out ability influencing the selection.
"We looked at the team dynamics and the way the game is being refereed at the moment and we feel there are going to be more lineouts," said Blackadder.
"So much of this week isn't about whom we consider the best players but who is ready to go right now.
"We feel that Tom and Sam together against Ali (Williams) and Anthony (Boric) will be a good match-up. Both have played really well and Luke Romano is a big, strong guy who can come on and make an impact.
"Pre-season we've seen a lot more line-outs than scrums. Last year you'd have 10 to 12 lineouts a game and at the moment we're getting that after 40 minutes. I suggest that's because of the breakdown."
Blues: 15 Isaia Toeava, 14 David Raikuna, 13 Rene Ranger, 12 Benson Stanley, 11 Rudi Wulf, 10 Michael Hobbs, 9 Alby Mathewson; 8 Jerome Kaino, 7 Daniel Braid, 6 Chris Lowrey, 5 Ali Williams, 4 Anthony Boric, 3 Charlie Faumuina, 2 Keven Mealamu (c), 1 Tom McCartney.
Replacements: 16 Pauliasi Manu, 17 Tevita Mailau, 18 Brad Mika, 19 Luke Braid, 20 Piri Weepu, 21 Hadleigh Parkes, 22 Sherwin Stowers.
Crusaders: 15 Tom Marshall, 14 Sean Maitland, 13 Robbie Fruean, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 Israel Dagg, 10 Tyler Bleyendaal, 9 Andy Ellis, 8 Kieran Read (c), 7 Matt Todd, 6 George Whitelock, 5 Samuel Whitelock, 4 Tom Donnelly, 3 Ben Franks, 2 Quentin MacDonald, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Replacements: 16 Corey Flynn, 17 Owen Franks, 18 Luke Romano, 19 Luke Whitelock, 20 Willie Heinz, 21 Patrick Osborne, 22 Adam Whitelock.