Ma’a Nonu, Jerome Kaino and Hayden Triggs have all been promoted from the bench to start in a strong Blues team to face the Highlanders at Eden Park on Saturday night.
Head coach Sir John Kirwan has made five changes to the side that overcame the Cheetahs 40-30 last week as the Blues look to maintain their unbeaten record at Eden Park this season.
Kirwan said it was great to have two world-class players in Nonu and Kaino back in the starting XV.
“They’re two world cup winning All Blacks and it was part of the plan to get them out there against the Cheetahs last week and get them on the football field from the first whistle against the Highlanders,” Kirwan said.
“I like the intensity they bring around the place and I like the way they go about their business. They’re a bit uncompromising which is what we need against the Highlanders on Saturday.”
Tom McCartney will make his first start of the season at hooker in place of James Parsons, while Hayden Triggs also earns his first start ahead of Tom Donnelly.
Kirwan said both Parsons and Donnelly had shouldered large workloads this season and it was important to manage them.
“James Parsons is on huge minutes and Tom McCartney deserves a crack at it, he’s done everything we’ve asked of him and he hasn’t had a crack this season so that’s important.
“We’ve taken Tom Donnelly off his legs a bit this week and given him a rest and he’ll be coming off the bench. Triggsy’s been in the system now and we need to get him out there.”
Kaino will start at blindside flanker as Steven Luatua shifts to number eight to cover Peter Saili who has had a sore foot and been unable to take full part in training this week.
In the backs and as advised earlier today, Piri Weepu will not take part in this Saturday’s game after expert diagnosis this week determined he had recently suffered a minor stroke.
“Piri and his family have the full support of the organisation. He’s getting the best possible care and advice and we are grateful this has been picked up by our medical experts, as often minor strokes remain undetected,” Kirwan said.
As a result Bryn Hall will start at halfback, while Northland’s Sonatane Takulua, who played in the Blues’ pre-season fixtures, comes onto the bench as Jamison Gibson-Park is still injured.
Ma’a Nonu’s inclusion in the starting XV at second-five sees Jackson Willison move out to centre and George Moala shift to the wing as Tevita Li drops out of the match day 23.
While Kirwan was happy with last week’s victory over the Cheetahs, he said his side would have to work much harder to defeat the Highlanders at Eden Park on Saturday.
“We had a win that we were happy with and we got maximum points but I think we just need to look more at our own performance,” he said.
“We realise that we’re going to have to be better to beat the Highlanders. They’re a better football team this year, they’re playing really well, they’ve got confidence so we need to tidy up one or two of our things and just get a little bit harder on each other about performing for the full 80 minutes.”
The Blues team to face the Highlanders at Eden Park on Saturday night (kick-off 7.35pm) is: