A trio of All Blacks have been named in the Blues team to take on the Waratahs in a pre-season trial in Sydney on Friday night (kick-off 9.30pm NZT).
Barnstorming wing Frank Halai will start on the right flank, while livewires Francis Saili and Charles Piutau will both come off the bench in the second half.
“Frank’s been with us for three weeks now so he’s transitioned right in and will be starting and playing 40 minutes,” Blues head coach Sir John Kirwan confirmed.
“Francis Saili will be playing 20 minutes and so will Charles Piutau so we’re looking to transition the All Blacks back in. The hard thing for them is they’ve been away while the other boys have had six weeks of training in their legs. Those two have come in really fit and are ready to go but we just need to make sure that we protect them early.”
Former All Black lock Tom Donnelly will pull on the Blues jersey for the first time, joining an ever-improving Liaki Moli in the second row, while captain Luke Braid will get his first opportunity to lead the side this year at openside flanker.
“Tom’s been great for us, we wanted to buy experience and someone who loves studying lineouts and he’s certainly delivered that,” Kirwan said.
“I’m not really looking for him to do too much this week, just get out there and nail off his core roles and get a game under his belt.
“We kept him out of the first game because he doesn’t need to play. He’s got the experience so he’s a guy that just needs to play himself into getting ready for Super Rugby.”
High profile signing Benji Marshall will again wear the number 10 jersey for the Blues, and while there is considerable hype around his return to Sydney where he played for the Wests Tigers for 10 years, Kirwan said Marshall was taking it all in his stride.
“This weekend’s a little bit about Benji going back to Sydney, everyone’s saying it’s a big week for him but he loves big weeks so for us it’s just getting him out there.
“He’s had his first game so it would be nice to get him back out there with a bit more pressure on and just say ‘go for it, get into it and enjoy it’. Last week was a good start and this week we just want him to keep building on it.”
Promising Wider Training Group first five-eighths Simon Hickey has been named on the bench alongside Chris Noakes who will make his first appearance since undergoing neck surgery in the off-season.
“Noakesy’s been great but we’ve been taking it gently with him. He’s a little bit like Tom Donnelly in that he doesn’t need to prove anything to us, we just need to make sure he’s well first. He’ll get out in the second half and he needs to get into contact and just play footy which he’s ready to do.”
Kirwan said he was looking for his side to build on last week’s performance against the Hurricanes.
“As far as the Waratahs are concerned we’re not going to worry about them, for us we just want improvements in the systems so we want a better understanding and a better execution this week.
“It’s just about building towards the season. We don’t want to see everything just yet. The good thing about last week was the stuff that we hadn’t trained too hard on was not evident and the stuff we had been training on was so we just need to make sure that we keep building.”
The Blues team to face the Waratahs at Allianz Stadium on Friday night (kick-off 9.30pm NZT) is:
1. Sam Prattley
2. James Parsons
3. Angus Ta’avao
4. Liaki Moli
5. Tom Donnelly
6. Kane Barrett
7. Luke Braid
8. Peter Saili
9. Bryn Hall
10. Benji Marshall
11. Tevita Li
12. Jackson Willison
13. George Moala
14. Frank Halai
15. Albert Nikoro