Captain Keven Mealamu will lead out his side for the first time in almost three months when the Blues face the Western Force at Eden Park on Saturday night.
Mealamu has not played for the Blues since round eight against the Sharks as a recurring calf injury kept him on the sidelines, but he is back to full fitness and determined to help his embattled team finish the season on a high.
The inclusion of Mealamu in the starting XV is one of four changes to the Blues side that took on the Chiefs in round 15.
While Mealamu makes a welcome return to the fray, the Blues’ injury woes have continued as outside backs Rudi Wulf and David Raikuna became the latest players to join an unprecedented number of frontline personnel on the casualty list.
With three Wider Training Group players included in the 22-man squad, Lam has also been forced to draft in three players from outside the team to provide cover.
Former Blues star Orene Ai’i returns to where it all began as he looks set to make his first appearance in Blues colours since 2004, while promising New Zealand Sevens player Charles Piutau is thrust straight into action at fullback for his Super Rugby debut with less than a week’s training under his belt.
There is also a call-up for lock Andrew Van der Heijden who will start against the Force, filling the void for the injured Ali Williams and Filo Paulo who has been suspended for the rest of the season.
Piri Weepu will start at halfback ahead of Alby Mathewson, while fellow All Black Ma’a Nonu is refreshed and raring to make an impact after enjoying a rare five week break during the International Test window.
Hooker Tom McCartney will play his 50th Super Rugby match if he takes the field.
The Blues team to face the Western Force at Eden Park on Saturday night (kick-off 7.35pm) is:
Unavailable: Gareth Anscombe, Anthony Boric, Charlie Faumuina, Jerome Kaino, Brad Mika, George Moala, David Raikuna, Benson Stanley, Isaia Toeava, Rudi Wulf and Filo Paulo