Kirwan starts Noakes at first-five, Benji on bench

Getty Images     20 Feb 2014     Getty Images

Kirwan said the Highlanders had flown under the radar and would be ready and waiting for the Blues.

As expected league convert Benji Marshall was named on the bench as cover for first five-eighths and fullback.

Kirwan reiterated his earlier comments that he would not put Marshall into a starting role until he was ready. He would be covering both first five-eighths and fullback from the bench.

"Hopefully we will put him on as a tactical change rather than as an injury change. He really enjoyed fullback last week so a bit more time back there will give him a greater appreciation of 10," he said.

"This is not going to happen overnight and I am not going to expose him if I don't think he is quite ready.

"A lot of other players that have come across have taken a couple of years, others have gone overseas before coming to Super Rugby. We want Benji to be here for a long time so that he is ready and we feel comfortable that he knows enough about the game," he said.

While All Black Charles Piutau did not run with the side on Thursday, following a knee injury suffered in last week's warm-up game against the Chiefs, Kirwan was confident he would start.

A fitter looking loosehead prop Ofa Tu'ungafasi has been given a start in the side. He is nine kgs lighter than last year and had trained enthusiastically throughout the pre-season.

"We want to have a policy that you earn the right to play every week and he's earned that right and is going real well," Kirwan said.

The Blues team is: 1.Ofa Tu'ungafasi, 2.James Parsons, 3.Charlie Faumuina, 4.Liaki Moli, 5.Tom Donnelly, 6.Steven Luatua, 7.Luke Braid, 8.Peter Saili, 9.Piri Weepu, 10.Chris Noakes, 11.George Moala, 12.Francis Saili, 13.Jackson Willison, 14.Frank Halai, 15.Charles Piutau.

Reserves: 16.Tom McCartney, 17.Sam Prattley, 18.Angus Ta'avao, 19.Patrick Tuipulotu, 20.Brendon O'Connor, 21.Bryn Hall, 22.Benji Marshall, 23.Tevita Li.