Ali Williams will captain the Blues for the first time when he leads out the side to face the Waratahs in Whangarei on Saturday in the second pre-season hit-out of the year.
The 77-Test veteran returned to the Blues a month early to kick-start his pre-season training and can’t wait to finally play a game.
“I’ve had a pretty good pre-season with a lot of hard work and it’s great to eventually get out onto the paddock,” Williams said.
“I’m really excited. One thing I’m probably most excited about is being out in the pressure cooker with all these boys that have done the hard work together so it’s going to be good.”
Williams said he was relishing the challenge of captaining a young Blues outfit.
“This is going to be the first real test. You can only really judge a captain by what happens on the field. First and foremost it’s how they play and secondly it’s how the team comes off.
“There are a few things for me to concentrate on but at the moment I’m loving it and having a great bunch of guys around me makes it easy.”
Williams is joined by a number of heavyweights returning to the fray for the first time this year.
Rene Ranger is sure to receive a huge welcome from the Northland faithful when he lines up at centre, while Chris Noakes starts at first five-eighths.
Wing George Moala will play his first game since fracturing his fibula during the ITM Cup.
All Black prop Charlie Faumuina will get some game time off the bench, while lock Culum Retallick will also come off the pine to play his first game in five months since suffering a mid foot joint sprain.
Blues head coach Sir John Kirwan said he was uninterested in the Waratahs line-up for Saturday but rather was concentrating on what his side needed to improve on.
“We’re being pretty selfish at the moment. There’s absolutely no use looking at them, it’s about getting our systems in place,” Kirwan said.
“We realise they’ve got their first game next week and they’ll probably be playing their best side so we know they’ll be up for it but we can’t worry too much about that.”
The Blues team to face the New South Wales Waratahs at Toll Stadium, Whangarei on Saturday (kick-off 2.30pm) is:
15. Albert Nikoro
14. George Moala
13. Rene Ranger
12. Francis Saili
11. Lolagi Visinia
10. Chris Noakes
9. Bryn Hall
8. Peter Saili
7. Luke Braid
6. Steven Luatua
5. Ali Williams (C)
4. Liaki Moli
3. Angus Ta’avao
2. Quentin MacDonald
1. Tom McCartney