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|Nelson Mandela 1918-2013|
| Latest Rugby News | Wednesday October 30 2013 16:43
UPDATED 6:46pm: Blues coach Sir John Kirwan has declared his honeymoon is over and acknowledges expectations will have risen for the 2014 Super Rugby season.
He has unveiled a squad including 11 past or present All Blacks and league convert Benji Marshall.
Flanker Luke Braid will captain the side.
Kirwan says his squad has more balance and experience than last season.
"Its exciting, the call from us was internal competition and depth of squad. So I think we've managed to deliver that."
Benji Marshall is taking confidence from the success of another high-profile convert as he starts to embark on a rugby union career.
The former Wests Tigers playmaker says he's played rugby before, which should give him an edge over new Wallabies back Israel Folau.
"He'd never played rugby before and he's adapted pretty good to it in a short amount of time, and I think I'm a pretty good learner.
"So with the right help and the right coaching staff that we do have, I'm pretty excited to be able to learn new things every day."
Marshall has been named in the squad as an outside back and that's where he expects to start his rugby career.
The former Kiwis captain says he's happy to play anywhere, but doesn't expect to be thrown straight into first-five.
"I think the plan is originally to probably start at fullback and get a feel for the structures of the game, and probably not have to take too much responsibility in organising.
"And then down the track probably move into 10."
New Hurricanes recruit Marty Banks has joined Marshall and representatives from each of the New Zealand franchises to unveil the new jerseys for 2014.
Banks says his rise to Super Rugby has come about incredibly quickly.
"I didn't have any goals this year to play Super, I didn't really have a goal to make the wider training. I was just trying to play for Tasman.
"I got my crack in the third round and when I got the contract I was still looking for work."
Banks says he's still pinching himself he's now a Super Rugby player.
"Firstly today being around some of the bigger names in this sport.
"It's a bit surreal for a little Reefton boy, but I'm enjoying it as much as I can."
Banks is one of four fresh faces in the Hurricanes squad.
The Highlanders squad has been overhauled for the 2014 Super Rugby season.
Half a dozen of high-profile players have departed and been replaced by those who have performed in the ITM Cup.
Coach Jamie Joseph says they didn't have the balance of their squad right last season, which upset their culture.
"The team culture which you see in the Otago team this year and last year, and you've seen recent times with the Highlanders, has been a real big reason why the teams have been successful and played for each other.
"So that's clearly the direction we want to go."
While the Highlanders have 10 new faces, the Blues have 11 past for present All Blacks.
Joseph says the franchises have seemingly switched roles.
"They've bolstered their ranks with superstars, Nonu, and Woodcock, and Benji Marshall, and others.
"So feels like they've got our jersey on and we've got theirs on."
Malakai Fekitoa is one of the Highlanders' new recruits, with the Blues unable to find room in their squad for the Auckland centre.
Sir John Kirwan says Fekitoa will get the opportunities he deserves down south.
"He's probably ready to play but we've probably got the midfield stacked, especially with Ma'a coming back and Francis and Jackson. So he might not have got a lot of game time."
Contracted players Waisake Naholo and Marty McKenzie have also been left out of the Blues squad, with the pair to instead play sevens.
Meanwhile, Highlanders co-captain Nasi Manu concedes expectations will have changed down south following the high-profile departures from the franchise.
"I guess it was a bit tougher going into the season where they expected us to win. Whereas in the past everyone hopes that we win.
"And I think it's almost back to hoping that we'll win."
There are 10 new players in the Highlanders squad, including Auckland centre Malakai Fekitoa.
All five New Zealand franchises have unveiled their squads, with Hawke's Bay first-five Ihaia West one of the only notable omissions.
Photo: Liam Messam,Andy Ellis, Benji Marshall, Marty Banks and Nasi Manu at the 2014 season launch (Photosport)