The Blues have named a near full-strength side for their final round-robin game at Eden Park, when they take on the Chiefs on Friday night.
All Black Patrick Tuipulotu returns to the starting line-up, while Michael Collins also returns at fullback after both came off the bench for the match against the Stormers in South Africa last weekend.
The All Black prop Charlie Faumuina will make his 98th appearance for the Blues and is in superlative form this season, setting up two tries in the game against the Stormers.
Two others will near milestones with winger Matt Duffie and prop Sione Mafileo playing their 19th games for the Blues, one cap away from their blazer games.
Piers Francis will start at first-five after coming off with a head injury against the Stormers. Blues doctor Dr Stephen Kara confirmed that Francis had not developed any further symptoms in a range of regular testing under the protocol since including a full neurological exam and neuro-cognitive testing via SCAT scan. He further tested clear after a return to training and completed the other graduated protocol steps to play with no recurrence of any symptoms.
There is interest in the potential debut of former New Zealand Under-20s player Stephen Perofeta, who is listed on the bench. He has been sidelined with an ankle injury for most of the season but returned to club rugby last weekend.
Head Coach Tana Umaga said the team faced a significant test after the demanding one-off game in South Africa and he had adjusted their training to suit this week.
“This is our final derby game of the regular season and I know the team will want to produce their best performance of the season. We need to produce an 80-minute performance across the board and ensure we are disciplined in that approach.”
Players not available because of injury include Jerome Kaino (knee), Pauliasi Manu (calf), Matt Moulds (knee), Ihaia West (ankle) and Jimmy Tupou (hamstring).
The match, which kicks off at 7.35pm, is the Barfoot & Thompson Charity round with fans invited to vote for their favoured charity who will receive the backing from the Blues Foundation Partner at halftime with a presentation by Blues legend Keven Mealamu.
The Blues team is:
1 Ofa Tu’ungafasi, 2 James Parsons (c), 3 Charlie Faumuina, 4 Patrick Tuipulotu, 5 Scott Scrafton, 6 Steven Luatua, 7 Blake Gibson, 8 Akira Ioane; 9 Augustine Pulu, 10 Piers Francis, 11 Rieko Ioane, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 13. George Moala, 14 Matt Duffie, 15 Michael Collins.
Replacements: 16 Hame Faiva, 17 Alex Hodgman, 18 Sione Mafileo, 19 Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, 20 Kara Pryor, 21 Sam Nock, 22 Stephen Perofeta, 23 TJ Faiane.
Photo by Photosport NZ