The Blues are going back to the future as they begin a challenging second half of the Investec Super Rugby season.
Their success earlier in the season was built on a solid starting platform with potent power off the bench to finish strongly, and plan to return to that strategy when they cross the Tasman to take on the Brumbies in Canberra on Saturday.
The energisers off the bench include new Blues centurion James Parsons, All Blacks Patrick Tuipulotu, Karl Tu’inukuafe and Dalton Papalii along with Marcel Renata, former captain Augustine Pulu, Harry Plummer and Levi Aumua.
It means Alex Hodgman and All Black Ofa Tuungafasi combine for just the second time this season in the front row with a fit-again Leni Apisai rewarded with his first start after a notable impact off the bench against the Highlanders.
Co-captain Blake Gibson makes a welcome return to lead the side after being out for two games with a significant laceration to his knee, while Akira Ioane will start his 28th straight game at No 8.
All Black Rieko Ioane is spelled for his planned break which will see Caleb Clarke switch to the left wing while All Black Matt Duffie, who has recovered fully from his serious hamstring injury suffered in the Mitre-10 Cup, to make his first start of the season. The other change sees Sam Nock have his first start at halfback.
“We have a number of players back from injury and others who have been performing well on the training field or with their minutes as replacements who have earned their chance. In this regard we are confident that this starting side will do the job we want,” said head coach Leon MacDonald.
“At the same time we did well earlier in the season with some real ammunition off the bench to add significant energy in the final quarter of the game and we feel we have that capability with this team.
“Also some of these players have carried some big loads and this is their opportunity to provide a different role for us.
“This Super Rugby competition is incredible tight, perhaps the closest in memory. There’s 10 teams within six points from third to 12thso these final seven games starting with the Brumbies are going to be a huge test and we are excited about the challenge in what is a superb competition.”
1 Alex Hodgman, 2 Leni Apisai, 3 Ofa Tuungafasi, 4 Gerard Cowley Tuioti, 5 Josh Goodhue, 6 Tom Robinson, 7 Blake Gibson ©, 8 Akira Ioane; 9 Sam Nock, 10 Otere Black, 11 Caleb Clarke, 12 Ma’a Nonu, 13 TJ Faiane, 14 Matt Duffie, 15 Melani Nanai.
Reserves: 16 James Parsons, 17 Karl Tu’inukuafe, 18 Marcel Renata, 19 Patrick Tuipulotu, 20 Dalton Papalii, 21 Augustine Pulu, 22 Harry Plummer, 23 Levi Aumua.