Nucifora axes his All Blacks

Blues coach David Nucifora – naming what he calls the “strongest team available based on consistency, form and what is required to beat the Bulls” – axed two of his World Cup All Blacks ahead of their Super 14 crunch match in Pretoria on Friday.

The Blues, second on the standings, are under pressure to win to ensure they keep alive their hopes of a home semi-final, after back-to-back defeats against the Sharks and Stormers. The fourth-placed Bulls can leave a further dent in the Blues’ campaign and move closer to home ground advantage in the play-offs with a big win over the Blues.

Reacting to his team’s two-match slump Nucifora axed lock Ali Williams, who starts on the replacement bench this week, and wing Joe Rokocoko, who drops out of the matchday 22 altogether.

Rokocoko is replaced on the left wing by Rudi Wulf and Greg Rawlinson comes into the starting line-up in place of Williams, who is paying for his disciplinary lapses in recent weeks.

While Blues captain Troy Flavell was yellow carded in the 33-20 loss to the Stormers last week, for repeated infringements, the real culprit was Williams – with an air tackle and a high tackle on Schalk Burger stretching the match officials’ patience with the errant Blues and All Black lock.

Nucifora clearly wants to avoid giving away unnecessary penalties against a Bulls team that has an accurate goal-kicking sniper in Derick Hougaard.

Steve Devine also starts this week in the place of the injured Dave Gibson, who suffered a minor neck strain and has returned to New Zealand. Due to his specialised position, a substitute was required and Taniela Moa has joined the team in South Africa.

In other backline changes Isa Nacewa replaces David Holwell at fly-half and Doug Howlett returns on the right wing in place of Anthony Tuitavake after being rested last week.

Apart from the axing of Williams, Nucifora also reshuffled his loose forwards.

Jerome Kaino moves to number eight in place of Nick Williams, while Angus Macdonald comes in on the blindside flank.

Nucifora said this is his “strongest team available based on consistency, form and what is required to play the sort of game needed to beat the Bulls”.

“The difficult decisions were at hooker, in the back row and on the wing,” Nucifora said.

“Rudi Wulf has been one of our most consistent and hardworking players throughout the season and deserves his spot.

“Angus Macdonald offers us very good support around the field for Daniel Braid and balances the back row with Jerome Kaino, whilst offering us another genuine line-out option,” Nucifora said of the need to counter the Bulls’ tall timber – Victor Matfield and Bakkies Botha.

“Derren Witcombe can consider himself unlucky after his consistent form all year.

“But the need for Keven Mealamu’s dynamic running game this week is a necessity,” Nucifora explained.

Nucifora said he hopes to have Gibson rejoin the team in Perth for their match against the Western Force at the end of next week.

Blues: 15 George Pisi, 14 Howlett Doug, 13 Isaia Toeava, 12 Sam Tuitupou, 11 Wulf Rudi, 10 Nacewa Isa, 9 Devine Steve, 8 Kaino Jerome, 7 Braid Daniel, 6 Macdonald, 5 Troy Flavell (c), 4 Rawlinson Greg, 3 John Afoa, 2 Keven Mealamu, 1 Tony Woodcock.
Replacements: 16 Derren Whitcombe, 17 Nick White, 18 Williams Ali, 19 Justin Collins, 20 Moa Taniela, 21 Holwell David, 22 Tuitavake Anthony

Date: Friday, 27 April
Venue: Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria
Kick-off: 19.05 (17.05 GMT)
Referee: Stuart Dickinson (Australia)
Touch judges: Bradley Wahl (Australia), Linston Manuels (South Africa)
Television match official: Johann Meuwesen (South Africa)
Assessor: Paul Ramsay


365 Digital

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