Kaino and Piutau return for battling Blues

All Blacks pair Jerome Kaino and Charles Piutau return from a rest to bolster the Blues, who face the Western Force in a clash of the Super Rugby cellar dwellers.

Captain and No.8 Kaino replaces Steven Luatua for Saturday’s game in Auckland while Piutau is restored at fullback in the two starting changes to the Blues team beaten 29-15 by the Crusaders in Christchurch last week.

That result left them 14th, sitting one point and one place ahead of the bottom-placed Force, who share the same 1-9 win-loss record.

Piutau’s recall comes at the expense of Frank Halai, with Lolagi Visinia shifted from fullback to the right wing.

Coach Sir John Kirwan decided to retain powerful flanker Akira Ioane, 19, to play alongside Kaino, with All Black Luatua possibly paying for some mixed recent form.

All Blacks lock Patrick Tuipulotu is still unavailable with a leg injury but flanker Luke Braid is available again after two games out with concussion.

He is included on the reserves bench.

Doubts surround the fitness of midfield pair Francis Saili and George Moala, who have both been bracketed with Hamish Northcott.

Lock Josh Bekhuis has also been bracketed, with Culum Retallick on standby to take his place.

Blues: Charles Piutau, Lolagi Visinia, Francis Saili/Hamish Northcott, George Moala/Hamish Northcott, Melani Nanai, Dan Bowden, Jimmy Cowan, Jerome Kaino (capt), Brendon O’Connor, Akira Ioane, Hayden Triggs, Josh Bekhuis/Culum Retallick, Charlie Faumuina, Keven Mealamu, Tony Woodcock. Reserves: James Parsons, Ofa Tu’ungafasi, Angus Ta’avao, Steven Luatua, Luke Braid, Jamison Gibson-Park, Ihaia West, Tevita Li.

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