24 Mar 2011

Pressure on for Blues places

2:55 pm on 24 March 2011

Blues coach Pat Lam admits he's turned up the heat on his players this season as he searches for consistency in the tough Super Rugby competition.

His players responded to a disappointing draw in Perth with a more assured home win over the Hurricanes last weekend but Lam says no one's position is assured ahead of a tough local derby at the Chiefs.

All Black winger Joe Rokocoko gets a start at Waikato Stadium on Saturday night after initially not being required at Eden Park and Lam insists his starting lineup is never settled, including his first-choice five-eighths combination of Stephen Brett at 10 and Luke McAlister at 12.

Lam says if the pair perform he'll keep picking them, and that goes for all his players.

The Chiefs game looms as a crucial fixture - the Blues sit in fifth place overall without yet recording back to back wins. Lam knows a victory would go a long way towards securing a playoffs berth and he's calling it a "massive game", not just for the Blues' season but also for himself in his time in charge off the Auckland-based side.

If they can lift to add the Chiefs' scalp on the road to their win over the Canes, which got their season back on track, then that would go a long way to getting the "monkey off the back" for Lam's "up and down" Blues.

Lam's been preaching the virtues of mental and physical preparation as key to success in the week-in, week-out grind of the season with the new local conference system stepping up the pressure.

He thinks his tight five could have the edge up front at Waikato Stadium though it'll be tough, but the former All Black admits he's a fan of the latest version of Super Rugby.

Lock Anthony Boric will start despite his knee injury against the Hurricanes last week and will play his 50th game for the Blues on Saturday night.

Daniel Braid's still out with his neck injury, the All Black flanker's brother Luke again fills in at No.7. Benson Stanley's also in doubt, he's bracketed with Sherwin Stowers on the bench.

Blues: Tony Woodcock, Keven Mealamu, John Afoa, Kurtis Haiu, Anthony Boric, Jerome Kaino, Luke Braid, Peter Saili, Alby Mathewson, Stephen Brett, Joe Rokocoko, Luke McAlister, Jared Payne, Rene Ranger, Isaia Toeava.

Reserves: Tom McCartney, Tevita Mailau, Teofilo Paulo, Mat Luamanu, Chris Smylie, Lachie Munro, (Benson Stanley/Sherwin Stowers)