The Blues will call on their depth after a short week and long trek from South Africa to take on the Hurricanes in Wellington on Saturday in Investec Super Rugby.
Coach Leon MacDonald said that a key finding from last year was that a number of the squad dropped their intensity after playing too many minutes week-in, week-out.
Accordingly, loose forward Hoskins Sotutu, 21, have been spelled this week with Blake Gibson given his third start and Akira Ioane his first start of the season.
“At the beginning of the season I said that we would select on form, and that we over-played some players last year and their form dropped off as a result,” said MacDonald.
“Hoskins was selected at No 8 on form and has played exceptionally well for us. Equally Akira has been training hard. He is in terrific shape and raring to go now that he has his chance.”
Meanwhile Dalton Papalii will miss the game as he sits out his first mandatory All Black break.
“We are blessed right now in terms of loose forwards with Blake Gibson able to start at seven and with Tony Lamborn to provide the thrust off the bench.”
All Black Ofa Tu’ungafasi swaps with Sione Mafileo in the starting line-up, while James Parsons, who returns from injury, and Ezekiel Lindenmuth, come into the reserves. There is excitement within the squad with North Harbour’s Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, a key forward in the 2019 campaign, returning off the bench after successful rehabilitation from a pec muscle rupture in the Mitre-10 Cup.
The backline remains unchanged after a sparkling display against the Stormers where Otere Black was impressive in guiding play from first-five.
“We enjoyed an excellent two weeks in South Africa but with some unexpected disruption travelling home has meant we will only get a couple of on-field training sessions this week, “said MacDonald.
“That’s not ideal but we will do our best to test our ability to be a more consistently competitive combination.”
The Blues return home to host the Lions at Eden Park next Saturday, with the game brought forward to 4.25pm to assist the Sunwolves who have been forced to move their home games to Australia.
The Blues A team play their Hurricanes counterparts in Wellington on Saturday at 1pm at Evans Bay.
The Blues team is: 15 Stephen Perofeta, 14 Joe Marchant, 13 Rieko Ioane, 12 TJ Faiane, 11 Mark Telea, 10 Otere Black, 9 Sam Nock; 8 Akira Ioane, 7 Blake Gibson, 6 Tom Robinson, 5 Jacob Pierce, 4 Patrick Tuipulotu ©, 3 Ofa Tuungafasi, 2 Kurt Eklund, 1 Karl Tu’inukuafe.
Reserves: 16 James Parsons, 17 Ezekiel Lindenmuth, 18 Sione Mafileo, 19 Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, 20 Tony Lamborn, 21 Jonathan Ruru, 22 Harry Plummer, 23 Matt Duffie.