Ihaia West to start for the Blues

Getty Images     30 May 2014     Getty Images

It has been a remarkable rise for the Hawke’s Bay playmaker who was brought into the Blues squad last month following the season-ending injury to Baden Kerr.

“What we’ve been impressed with is his calmness under fire,” Blues head coach Sir John Kirwan said of 22-year-old West.

“He’s come in and been thrown in the deep end and said ‘ bring it on’ so he deserves his start. We really think he could be an influential player in the future of this franchise like Simon so we’ve got two very good young men in our squad and it’s no secret that we are looking for someone to step into that role.

“Both those young men have certainly put their hands up but I think with Ihaia getting a start this week we just want a little bit more attack and he’ll bring that to us.”

George Moala is named on the left wing ahead of Tevita Li who has been stood down for a breach of internal team protocols, while veteran halfback Piri Weepu has overcome a groin strain to be named on the bench.

Consecutive defeats to the Chiefs and Sharks in recent weeks has opened up a gap between the bottom placed Blues and the rest of the New Zealand Conference as they currently sit 11 points off front runners the Crusaders and 10 points behind the second placed Hurricanes.

However Kirwan believes his side is not far away from clicking.

“We’re five per cent off and we have lost to the first team and what was the second team last week when we probably should have won so they are good signs. The team is heading in the right direction, we’re just not winning games which has put us under pressure.”

However Kirwan hasn’t given up hope of his side making the playoffs and knows the formula is simple – win the last four games of the season.

“We’re definitely in playoff mode, we can’t drop a game,” Kirwan said.

“If we want to achieve what we set out to achieve we can’t drop a football game so it’s a big ask but it’s quite exciting at the same time. We’re at home and it’s a must-win.”

The Hurricanes thrashed back-to-back champions the Chiefs 45-8 last week to underline their credentials as title contenders and Kirwan knows his side is in for a huge challenge at Eden Park on Saturday night.

“They’re in form and are playing bloody well but they’re still under pressure because they finish with a bye so everyone else has four games whereas they have three so it’s a must-win for them which is similar to us. Barrett is playing the house down and their backs are really firing so if you give them an inch they’ll take a mile.”

The Blues team to face the Hurricanes at Eden Park on Saturday (kick-off 7.35pm) is:

15. Lolagi Visinia
14. Frank Halai
13. Pita Ahki
12. Ma’a Nonu
11. George Moala
10. Ihaia West
9. Bryn Hall
8. Jerome Kaino
7. Luke Braid (C)
6. Peter Saili
5. Tom Donnelly
4. Patrick Tuipulotu
3. Charlie Faumuina
2. Keven Mealamu
1. Tony Woodcock

16. James Parsons
17. Ofa Tu’ungafasi
18. Angus Ta’avao
19. Hayden Triggs
20. Steven Luatua
21. Piri Weepu
22. Simon Hickey
23. Albert Nikoro