The Blues have named six All Blacks who will make their first start of the Investec Super Rugby season to play the Highlanders at Eden Park on Saturday.
Co-Captains James Parsons and Jerome Kaino are named in the pack that also sees a start for prop Charlie Faumuina and lock Patrick Tuipulotu.
There’s a further change in the forwards with North Harbour newcomer Murphy Taramai to make his first Super Rugby start at No 8. Coach Tana Umaga said Murphy has been rewarded for his excellent form in the pre-season and first two games, while Akira Ioane will provide his energy from the bench.
In the backs, All Blacks George Moala comes in at second five and Rene Ranger on to the wing to replace the unlucky Piers Francis and Melani Nanai, who will see action off the bench.
Parsons will captain the side in his return after suffering from concussion early in the Mitre 10 Cup competition for North Harbour. He completed 40 minutes of action for the Blues Development side last weekend.
Umaga said the team has welcomed back their All Blacks who are now ready for starting action.
“Jerome and Patrick had delayed starts while Charlie has worked his way to excellent form, and both George and Rene impressed when they came on last week against the Chiefs,” Umaga said.
“There’s good depth in this squad and so there is going to be times when strong players won’t get starts always.”
There is a powerful bench that features All Black Ofa Tu’ungafasi and the return of Sam Prattley in the front row, with Francis and Nanai to spark things in the backs.
The game kicks off at 7.35pm. Get your tickets here.
The team is:
Pauliasi Manu, James Parsons (C), Charlie Faumuina, Jimmy Tupou, Patrick Tuipulotu, Jerome Kaino, Blake Gibson, Murphy Taramai; Augustine Pulu, Ihaia West, Rene Ranger, George Moala, Rieko Ioane, Matt Duffie, Michael Collins.
Replacements: Matt Moulds, Sam Prattley, Ofa Tu’ungafasi, Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, Akira Ioane or Kara Pryor, Billy Guyton, Piers Francis, Melani Nanai.