Gifted loose forward Akira Ioane has his opportunity to shine when he starts in this weekend’s Investec Super Rugby clash against the Brumbies in Canberra.
Ioane has big shoes to fill for his third start of the season at No 8, with inspirational Jerome Kaino ruled out with a knee injury.
Coach Tana Umaga said while the loss of Kaino is a blow for the team, it presents an opportunity for gifted Ioane, who has played in all eight games this season mostly off the bench.
It is the only change in the pack from the last game against the Hurricanes before the bye, with All Black Steven Luatua moving to his preferred blindside flanker role, and Ioane taking over at No 8.
Kaino will undergo surgery this week and will be out of action for around six weeks.
Taranaki and Maori All Black lock Leighton Price, called into the squad this week for the rest of the season as a replacement, will be pressed into immediate action on the bench, with Patrick Tuipulotu, Jimmy Tupou, and Josh Goodhue all ruled out with injury.
All Black prop Ofa Tu’ungafasi will reach his milestone of 50 games for the Blues, when he gets a likely call off the bench this weekend, while newly selected English international, Piers Francis reaches his 20th and blazer game.
Midfielder George Moala is recalled to the starting line-up to form an All Black midfield with Sonny Bill Williams, with Rieko Ioane moving to the left wing.
The team flies to Canberra on Friday.
The Blues team is:
1 Pauliasi Manu, 2 James Parsons (C), 3 Charlie Faumuina, 4 Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, 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 Matt Moulds, 17 Ofa Tu’ungafasi, 18 Sione Mafileo, 19 Leighton Price, 20 Murphy Taramai, 21 Billy Guyton, 22 Bryn Gatland, 23 Melani Nanai.
Unavailable due to injury: Rene Ranger (ankle), Stephen Perofeta (ankle), Jordon Trainor (shin), Brandon Nansen (wrist/hand), Jerome Kaino (knee), Ihaia West (ankle), Declan O’Donnell (concussion), Patrick Tuipulotu (back), Josh Goodhue (hamstring), Alex Hodgman (calf), Sam Prattley (knee).
Photo by Photosport NZ