The Blues welcome two long term injured players to add spark to the team to take on the Sunwolves at QBE Stadium in North Harbour on Saturday.
Loose forward Blake Gibson will make his first appearance, starting on the openside flank after being sidelined with long term injury. His return allows All Black Dalton Papalii to come off the bench after playing high minutes in the opening three games.
The 2m lock Scott Scrafton will come off the bench after nearly one year out of the sport after damaging both his ACL and LCL in the knee and ripping the tendon off the bone.
There’s a homegrown look to the tight five with All Black Karl Tu’inukuafe, James Parsons and Sione Mafileo forming a potent front row and Gerard Cowley-Tuioti starting at lock – all from North Harbour and starting on their home turf.
In-form Northland lock Josh Goodhue will partner Cowley-Tuioti in the middle row while Tom Robinson and Akira Ioane again start in the loose.
Outstanding rookie Harry Plummer gets his first start at first-five, swapping spots with Otere Black, who comes off the bench, and Sonny Bill Williams starts and will captain the side.
Northland’s Sam Nock has recovered from a calf injury and is included on the bench as is big Tasman midfielder Levi Aumua.
The Blues will spell Ofa Tuungafasi and Patrick Tuipulotu with prescribed All Blacks rest, while Alex Hodgman has also been rested with a slight knee injury suffered in Argentina.
“It’s been a tough couple of weeks of long travel, short turnarounds, hot conditions, and performances that were below our capabilities,” said coach Leon Macdonald.
“It’s good to have some of our key injured players back to inject some freshness both in the starting team and off the bench and give us a chance to rest some who have had a big start to the season.
“We also expect our North Harbour boys to really stand up on their home ground and set the platform upfront for our backs to prosper. Overall we are looking for a more physical job at the breakdown, and more accuracy and patience.
“Clearly the Sunwolves are a vastly different team with a lot of New Zealand and Australian players with Super Rugby experience. They proved their capability last week with the win against the Chiefs and we are under no illusions of the challenge they will bring.
“We are looking forward to it and hopefully produce a game of real quality.”
The Blues team to take on the Sunwolves at QBE Stadium on Saturday at 7.35pm is:
15 Melani Nanai, 14 Tanielu Tele’a, 13 TJ Faiane, 12 Sonny Bill Williams ©, 11 Rieko Ioane, 10 Harry Plummer, 9 Augustine Pulu; 8 Akira Ioane, 7 Blake Gibson, 6 Tom Robinson, 5 Josh Goodhue, 4 Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, 3 Sione Mafileo, 2 James Parsons, 1 Karl Tu’inukuafe. Reserves: 16 Matt Moulds, 17 Marcel Renata, 18 Lua Li, 19 Scott Scrafton, 20 Dalton Papalii, 21 Sam Nock, 22 Otere Black, 23 Levi Aumua.
Not considered with injury: Jimmy Tupou (knee), Jacob Pierce (ankle), Ezekiel Lindenmuth (knee), Jordan Trainor (thigh), Matt Duffie (hamstring), Stephen Perofeta (shoulder/pectoral), Caleb Clarke (knee), Alex Hodgman (knee).