The Blues welcome back All Blacks Rieko Ioane and Ofa Tuungafasi for Friday’s Investec Super Rugby clash against the Reds on Friday at 7.35pm.
The match will be Jerome Kaino’s final home game on his beloved Eden Park where he has many of his best and most memorable rugby occasions.
Kaino, who made his Super debut against the Reds in 2004, will chalk up his 137thcap for the club on Friday, to draw level with Tony Woodcock as the joint second most capped Blues player behind Keven Mealamu.
Tuungafasi returns to bolster a strong looking Blues pack with Alex Hodgman and James Parsons, with Kaino forming a powerful back three with Akira Ioane and Blake Gibson, who makes a welcome first appearance after off-season shoulder surgery.
With Sonny Bill Williams sidelined with a shoulder injury received against France, Rieko Ioane moves back to the Blues midfield alongside Michael Collins, who has played in this role often before finding a home at fullback when he came to the Blues.
It leaves an exciting back three with New Zealand Under-20s winger Caleb Clark, Melani Nanai and Matt Duffie.
Captain Augustine Pulu will need to come through a fitness test to take his place at halfback inside Stephen Perofeta and is bracketed with Sam Nock.
“This is an important occasion for our club and for this team. Jerome has been a magnificent contributor to the Blues and the All Blacks both on and off the field, and much of that success has been on Eden Park,” said coach Tana Umaga.
“There is no better way for our team to honour Jerome than to produce a performance of real quality, consistency and direction.
“Our season to date has been disappointing, but we see these final three games as important for us to transfer that hard work that we see on the training field into performance on it.”
To further honour #6 Kaino, all children’s tickets will be just $6 and the players will have his Blues No 116 embroidered on their shirts, while JK116 will be a virtual graphic on television screens.
All ticketholders who scan into the game before the 7.35pm kickoff will go into a draw to win a double pass to the All Blacks vs Australia Test at Eden Park in August.
The Blues team is:
15. Matt Duffie, 14. Melani Nanai, 13. Michael Collins, 12. Rieko Ioane, 11. Caleb Clarke, 10. Stephen Perofeta, 9. Augustine Pulu © or Sam Nock; 8. Akira Ioane, 7. Blake Gibson, 6. Jerome Kaino, 5. Matiaha Martin, 4. Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, 3. Ofa Tuungafasi, 2. James Parsons, 1. Alex Hodgman
Reserves: 16. Matt Moulds/Leni Apisai, 17. Pauliasi Manu, 18. Sione Mafileo, 19. Jacob Pierce, 20. Murphy Taramai, 21. Jonathan Ruru, 22. Bryn Gatland, 23 TJ Faiane/Tumua Manu.
Not considered because of injury: Otere Black (knee – season), George Moala (chest – season), Matt Johnson (surgery – season), Tamati Tua (hand), Jimmy Tupou (knee – season), Josh Goodhue (concussion), Patrick Tuipulotu (shoulder – season), Glenn Preston (groin, season), Scott Scrafton (knee – season), Sonny Bill Williams (shoulder), Dalton Papalii (hamstring), Terrence Hepetema (back strain), Mike Tamoaieta (knee).