The coaching staff at the Blues have rewarded good form in naming their starting line-up to host the Highlanders at Eden Park on Friday.
There are only three changes from the team that prevailed over the Sunwolves before the break for the bye, which means the bench will include four All Blacks to add real punch in the second half.
The only change in the pack sees Alex Hodgman return to the loosehead, after missing the Sunwolves game with a minor injury, to partner the strong-scrummaging Sione Mafileo, with Karl Tu’inukuafe to come off the bench.
Loose forward Blake Gibson will captain the side after his impressive season debut against the Sunwolves following injury, while Northland’s Tom Robinson makes his sixth straight start after some outstanding form.
It means All Black Dalton Papalii will add energy from the reserves bench while stand-out No 8 Akira Ioane will make his 23rdstraight start and 37thgame in a row for the Blues.
Jonathan Ruru, who started in the opening two games, returns at halfback with Augustine Pulu to come off the bench while the only other change will see midfielder Ma’a Nonu to inter-change with Sonny Bill Williams, who has the week off.
The replacements include internationals Ofa Tuungafasi, Tu’inukuafe, Patrick Tuipulotu and Papalii, with Pulu, Otere Black and the bracketed pair of Levi Aumua and Matt Duffie as back reserves.
The Blues team to take on the Highlanders at Eden Park at 7.35pm is:
15 Melani Nanai, 14 Tanielu Tele’a, 13 TJ Faiane, 12 Ma’a Nonu, 11 Rieko Ioane, 10 Harry Plummer, 9 Jonathan Ruru; 8 Akira Ioane, 7 Blake Gibson, 6 Tom Robinson, 5 Josh Goodhue, 4 Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, 3 Sione Mafileo, 2 James Parsons, 1. Alex Hodgman. Reserves: 16 Leni Apisai, 17 Ofa Tuungafasi, 18 Karl Tu’inukuafe i, 19 Patrick Tuipulotu, 20 Dalton Papalii, 21 Augustine Pulu, 22 Otere Black, 23 Levi Aumua or Matt Duffie.
Not considered because of injury: Jimmy Tupou (knee), Jacob Pierce (ankle), Ezekiel Lindenmuth (knee), Stephen Perofeta (shoulder/pectoral), Caleb Clarke (knee), Jordan Trainor (thigh).