Blues head coach Pat Lam finally has the luxury of naming a full strength front row for Thursday night’s match against the Rebels, with Keven Mealamu returning from injury to partner All Black teammate Tony Woodcock and Charlie Faumuina in the engine room.
It will be the first time Woodcock and Mealamu have played together since the 2011 Rugby World Cup final, with Mealamu suffering a calf injury following the Stormers game just as Woodcock returned to action after an extended period of leave.
The inclusion of the inspirational Blues captain is one of four changes to the starting XV for Thursday night’s must-win match.
Enigmatic Northland back Rene Ranger returns from suspension to start on the left wing, with Rudi Wulf shifting to fullback as Lachie Munro starts on the right wing in place of the injured David Raikuna.
Rising star Gareth Anscombe will start at first five-eighths ahead of Piri Weepu and Michael Hobbs, with the latter two players both named on the bench.
Despite an impressive performance in his Blues debut against the Hurricanes, lock Liaki Moli has been unwell for the past week and has been unable to train with the team, paving the way for Filo Paulo to join Ali Williams in the locking department.
The Blues team to face the Melbourne Rebels at AAMI Park in Melbourne on Thursday night (kick-off 9.40pm NZT) is:
Unavailable ñ Jerome Kaino, Luke Braid, Isaia Toeava, George Moala and Anthony Boric