Faumuina back for Blues

The return of their gruntiest, gnarliest and most capable front-rower is being welcomed by the Blues as the beleaguered franchise braces for a test of their manhood at Albany on Saturday night.

All Black tighthead prop Charlie Faumuina is ready to make his first start of the season in the only change to Tana Umaga's run-on XV to face South Africa's Bulls at QBE Stadium, and it's fair to say they're figuring he will be needed.

"It's huge," said Blues skipper James Parsons before Thursday's training. "He's an All Black for a reason: he's one of the best players in the world, and the one game he did play off the bench (against the Chiefs) you saw how electrifying he can be with the ball in hand. We know what he can do at set piece, so it's exciting for us."

Coach Umaga anticipates his team is about to get asked some searching questions around the set piece and rolling maul, traditional strengths of the South African visitors, especially after the Crusaders fuelled their comeback victory over the Blues in Christchurch last round with two tries off the lineout-drive.

And having Faumuina's 127kg frame back in the engine room should help the 1-3 Blues address not just these key challenges but also provide the platform their backs need to continue to do their thing as they look to snap a three-game losing skid.

"In their own judgment our forward pack are not where they want to be," said Umaga. "They want to get those things right because they realise if they can get good quality ball, we've got a backline that can make use of it. We need to make sure those things are right against a very big South African side who thrive on that kind of ball in those areas."

Faumuina, with his 46 tests of experience, will add to the scrum strength, and to some of the power aspects in and around the breakdown, but Umaga emphasises that defending the at-times indefensible driving maul requires a total effort.

"Last week we learned a bit there, and it's been a constant on our minds from then. They've seen the blueprint of how teams have scored against us, and it's now about us making sure we are all on same page when it comes to trying to nullify that.

"We know it's coming, and we're working hard to try and take the sting out of those areas."

Umaga is adamant his team played an hour of quality rugby last round against the Crusaders, despite seeing a 24-5 second-half lead morph into a 33-24 defeat as the Red and Blacks rattled off the game's last 29 points.

"Confidence is the big thing for us, believing in our game for 80 minutes," added the coach. "We've just got to keep playing. It doesn't look good [for Saturday] weather wise but we do enough skillwork, so we've got to believe in what we're doing and adjust to those things.

"Teams are going to come back at us and we need to be able to handle that and do what we can in terms of our game-plan and structures we have in place.

"But that's the kind of style we want to play and want to be known for and what we enjoy. It suits us, and we've just got to keep doing it for 80 minutes."

Umaga has left his backline intact, largely on the back of that first 50 minutes in Christchurch when George Moala and Augustine Pulu led an impressive assault. Then the supply line dried up and they drifted out of the game.

"We took a lot of confidence out of last week, and especially that first 60 minutes," added Parsons. "We found a brand of rugby we thrive off and like to play. We've just got to buy into that. There are a lot of positive signs, and this group is confident in our abilities."

The Blues have won 10 of 11 home games against the Bulls, with their sole defeat coming in 2013.

BLUES: Michael Collins, Matt Duffie, Rieko Ioane, George Moala, Melani Nanai, Piers Francis, Augustine Pulu; Jerome Kaino, Blake Gibson, Jimmy Tupou, Patrick Tuipulotu, Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, Charlie Faumuina, James Parsons (c), Pauliasi Manu. Reserves: Matt Moulds, Ofa Tu'ungafasi, Sione Mafileo, Akira Ioane, Murphy Taramai, Sam Nock, Ihaia West, TJ Faiane.


Photo: Getty Images /KAI SCHWOERER (All Blacks prop Charlie Faumuina is the lone change in the Blues starting side this week).