Blues make changes as charge to finals footy begins

By James Perry

With six matches remaining, including two against the Hurricanes and one each against the Chiefs and Crusaders, the Blues are determined to give everything to stay in the fight.

Blues coach Leon Macdonald has made seven changes to the starting line up for this week's match against the Hurricanes.

All Black prop Karl Tu'inukuafe replaces Alex Hodgman (with concussion) and James Parsons in what will be his 100th Super Rugby game, pushing Leni Apisai back to the bench.

To the front row, captain Patrick Tuipulotu and flanker Dalton Papali'i also return to the starting pack after starting on the bench in the loss against Canberra on Saturday.

In the backline, Otere Black and Harry Plummer switch roles, with Plummer taking the number 10 jersey this week while Black will come on later in the game.  Rieko Ioane and Tanielu Tele'a return from enforced rest and suspension respectively.

MacDonald says the schedule makes for great preparation for his side as they chase their first playoff berth since 2011. 

"Look, we had to play them at some point and now's a good time because we've got to be at our best...if we're going to progress even further past into the playoffs and win we're going to have to play them away anyway."

Tuipolotu told media today that the pressure to deliver after a promising four win run earlier this year is being felt amongst the team.

"in our review we compared ourselves to how our pre-season went and how we're feeling now."

They beat the Hurricanes 38-31 and the Chiefs 43-10 in warm-up fixtures before the season proper began, before losing their opening three matches. 

"In pre-season we don't feel that [pressure].  We went out and played and enjoyed what we did."

Tuipulotu says the solution is simple, "it's just a matter of bringing that same mindset back into the crunch stages of the season".

Having not played at home for more than a month, MacDonald is welcoming the return to Eden Park. 

"We've played well at home this year.  Every game we've played at home has been a good one, so we can get excited about that," he says.

Tuipulotu says the prospect of facing three New Zealand opposition sides four times in the closing six weeks is a daunting prospect, but one he is welcoming. 

"We want to topple a lot of those teams off, we want to win the next couple of games and that's enough motivation for us."

The Blues play the Hurricanes on Friday night at home.