Impressive young flanker Steven Luatua has been ruled out of Saturday night’s must-win match against the Brumbies at Eden Park.
The 22-year-old, who was one of eight Blues players called into the All Blacks Wider Training Group earlier this week, has failed to overcome a neck injury he suffered during last week’s loss to the Crusaders.
“He banged up his neck last week and it hasn’t freed up,” Blues head coach Sir John Kirwan said.
“We felt that he’d be playing at 80 per cent rather than a hundred and we’d like to put the athlete first. I made the decision and he’s not very happy about it but I’ve taken him out of the team.
“He’s got no real damage, he’s just had a pretty bad knock to the neck and shoulder and will be available for us next week.”
As a result Brendon O’Connor is promoted from the bench to start at blindside flanker.
Tighthead prop Angus Ta’avao tweaked his knee during training on Tuesday and has been bracketed with Sam Prattley. Ta’avao will have a run at today’s training session, with a call to be made on his availability later in the week.
The only change to the backline comes at second five-eighths where Francis Saili starts ahead of Jackson Willison.
“Jackson and Francis have been our form guys,” Kirwan said.
“I think Francis brought a real excitement to the game last week when he came on. We need him to step up with his vision and his verbals helping Noaksey out, looking up and making the right calls but if he can bring his excitement and footwork then we’ll be really happy.”
The Blues team to face the Brumbies at Eden Park on Saturday night (kick-off 7.35pm) is: