Luke Braid will become the youngest ever player to captain the Blues when he leads the side out to face the Highlanders at Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin on Friday night (kick-off 7.35pm).
The 23-year-old flanker has been bestowed the honour of wearing the captain’s armband in the absence of Keven Mealamu who has been ruled out of the match due to a recurring calf strain.
“Luke was selected by his team-mates as the Blues Player of the Year in 2011. He has a lot of respect within the team and that is reflected in his high work-rate and consistent on-field performance. He is a natural leader and we see him as a future captain,” Blues head coach Pat Lam said.
Tom McCartney will replace the injured Mealamu at hooker in one of four personnel changes to the Blues starting XV.
A nerve injury to Rudi Wulf’s shoulder sees him join Mealamu on the casualty list, causing a reshuffle of the backline.
Hadleigh Parkes moves to fullback, Benson Stanley shifts out to the wing and Rene Ranger will partner Ma’a Nonu in an exciting midfield combination.
Livewire back George Moala will also make his first start for the Blues after a brief cameo off the pine against the Sharks last week.
Chris Lowrey returns to his favoured position of blindside flanker as Luke Braid switches to openside and Peter Saili makes his first start of the season at number eight.
World Cup winning All Black lock Ali Williams has been recalled to the starting XV in place of Liaki Moli as Lam looks to inject some much needed experience to the team from the outset.†
“When you look at the players on the injury list this week as well as having Dan Braid on the bench, we are without a lot of senior players and leaders. We need Ali out there from first whistle this week.”
Winger David Raikuna returns to the 22 after two weeks off with a hamstring problem.
Unavailable due to injury: Keven Mealamu, Jerome Kaino, Isaia Toeava, Rudi Wulf, Anthony Boric and Brad Mika