The Blues have plenty to play for in their final Super Rugby match against the Highlanders at Eden Park on Friday night.
Iconic hooker Keven Mealamu will lead the team in his 175th and final Super Rugby match, while fellow All Black James Parsons will come off the bench for his 50th cap for the Blues.
Three players who are leaving for overseas will start against the Highlanders. Brendon O’Connor, who along with Jamison Gibson-Park are the only Blues players who have played in every game this season, will head to Leicester in England later in the year. Two others heading overseas are welcomed back from injury in Charles Piutau, returning after five weeks out with a knee injury, and Angus Ta’avao. Piutau will play at fullback and Ta’avao in the front row after recovering from a shoulder strain.
There are still 12 players on the injury list as well as three players at the Junior World Cup in Italy that has opened the way for a debut Super Rugby start for North Harbour forward Chris Vui, while Northland’s former Tongan international Jack Ram comes into the reserves for the first time.
Mealamu says he is not letting his thoughts wander past the job in hand on Friday.
ìI’ve been blessed to have been able to play in Super Rugby for 15 years, and this is certainly not the end of my rugby quite yet. I will make a final decision on that at the end of the year,î Mealamu said.
ìIn some ways it will be emotional to share my final Super rugby game on Friday with my teammates, my friends and especially my family.
ìThis has been a tough season for the Blues but we can go out on a good note knowing we have performed to our best.
ìWe have some players leaving as well and we have James who is reaching an important milestone, so we owe it to them and to ourselves to be the best we can be both individually and collectively on Friday.î
Parsons was honoured to pass on the captaincy on Friday to Mealamu, who has been an inspirational figure for the North Harbour hooker.
ìHe is a great man and a great player. He has set the benchmark on and off the field and I have learned so much from him,î Parsons said.
ìFor me to play 50 games for the Blues is a huge honour that I am very proud of. It’s a special moment not only for me but my family and friends that have helped get me here.î
The battle of the KFC College Curtain Raiser series is the match between Orewa College, playing on Eden Park for the first time, and Westlake Boys starting at 5.05pm.
The Blues team is:
- Sam Prattley
- Keven Mealamu (c)
- Angus Ta’avao
- Hayden Triggs
- Josh Bekhuis
- Chris Vui
- Brendon O’Connor
- Joe Edwards
- Jamison Gibson-Park
- Ihaia West
- Melani Nanai
- George Moala
- Hamish Northcott
- Ben Lam
- Charles Piutau
Players not considered because of injury include: Dan Bowden, Luke Braid, Charlie Faumuina, Frank Halai, Jerome Kaino, Steven Luatua, Francis Saili, Patrick Tuipulotu, Ofa Tu’ungafasi, Pita Ahki.