The Blues welcome back the experience of captain Augustine Pulu, Patrick Tuipulotu and Jerome Kaino to their starting line-up for the Super Rugby match against the Waratahs in Sydney.
The return of the trio to start the game is positive news for the Blues, with Pulu having played 30 minutes off the bench last week, while Tuipulotu missed the game with illness. Kaino returns after a hamstring strain that side-lined him for the past three games.
“We have some key players starting to slowly return over the next couple of weeks but it is welcome news to have these three players back, not just with their rugby ability but especially their experience,” said coach Tana Umaga.
There are still defections this week which means Northland and Maori All Black prop Ross Wright gets his first start at loosehead prop after seven games off the bench.
The loose forward trio form an impressive combination with Kaino’s return alongside the in-form young guns Akira Ioane and Dalton Papalii.
Pulu teams with Stephen Perofeta to guide the team while Rieko Ioane and Orbyn Leger are again paired in the midfield. Replacement Tumua Manu, who has scored in each of his two games, moves to the right wing to allow for the debut of Caleb Clarke, who has recovered fully from appendicitis which ruled him out of the All Black Sevens team at the Commonwealth Games.
All Black Matt Duffie, who excelled slotting back to fullback in terrible weather conditions last week, retains his spot.
“It is back to the basics again for us. We need to win our set piece and the collision, hold our discipline, play positively with patience with some go-forward ball, communicate well and defend to plan,” said Umaga.
“We are working hard. Each week we do some things well but one or two things let us down. We know this is a tough test with our young and inexperienced team, but we are ready to put a performance together.”
The match will be played at Brookvale Oval, the home of the Manly Warringah rugby league side, with the Waratah’s home ground of Alliance Stadium unavailable.
The team is:
15. Matt Duffie, 14. Tumua Manu, 13. Orbyn Leger, 12. Rieko Ioane, 11. Caleb Clarke, 10. Stephen Perofeta, 9. Augustine Pulu ©; 8. Akira Ioane, 7. Dalton Papalii, 6. Jerome Kaino, 5. Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, 4. Patrick Tuipulotu, 3. Sione Mafileo, 2. James Parsons, 1. Ross Wright.
Reserves: 156. Matt Moulds, 17. Pauliasi Manu, 18. Mike Tamoaieta, 19. Ben Nee-Nee or Lyndon Dunshea, 20. Murphy Taramai, 21. Jonathan Ruru, 22. Dan Kirkpatrick, 23 Terrence Hepetema.
Not considered because of injury: Otere Black (knee – season), Blake Gibson (shoulder), Glenn Preston (groin, season), Sonny Bill Williams (wrist), Alex Hodgman (wrist), Scott Scrafton (leg – season), Melani Nanai (ankle), Matt Johnson (surgery – season), George Moala (chest – season), TJ Faiane (ankle), Tamati Tua (hand), Michael Collins (hand), Ofa Tuungafasi (knee), Jimmy Tupou (knee), Josh Goodhue (concussion), Isaac Salmon (hand).