Six players will make their debuts in an exciting Blues side that includes All Black Rieko Ioane who will play his 50th game for the club for the Investec Super Rugby opener against the Chiefs at Eden Park on Friday.
Ioane, 22, made his Super Rugby debut five years ago and in that time has amassed 33 tries for the Blues, along with earning 26 caps for the All Blacks.
He will make his first appearance for the season at wing, with England representative Joe Marchant to make his debut for the Blues at Centre.
The 23-year-old Marchant, who players for the Harlequins club in England, is one of four starters to make their Blues debut including hooker Kurt Eklund, USA World Cup representative Tony Lamborn at loose forward and North Harbour winger Mark Telea. Others who could debut off the bench include Samoan World Cup player Ray Niuia and exciting Bay of Plenty outside back, Emoni Narawa.
Blues Head Coach Leon Macdonald is pleased with the hard work that has gone into a truncated pre-season, and the team is excited to get the Super Rugby season underway on home turf at the spiritual home of rugby at Eden Park.
“The boys are proud to represent the club, the jersey and our region in this new season, and we are excited about the season ahead,” he said.
“Selection for this team is probably the toughest one that I have had in my time at the Blues, with a number of other players pushing hard for this first team. We have been pleased with the level of commitment, competition and performance, and especially from a number of new players to our club.”
MacDonald said Rieko Ioane would get his opportunity to play in the midfield as the season progresses but in his first outing this year, will play in his accustomed role on the left wing.
Eklund’s high-tempo displays in training and pre-season warranted a start while Lamborn brings a hard-working and uncompromising approach to the loose forward effort.
In the backs Marchant has fitted quickly into the club and its systems, while 21-year-old Telea is a hard running and elusive wing from North Harbour who continues to grow his game.
MacDonald said several young players have earned their chances with the form they have shown in training and pre-season matches, including the likes of Telea, Narawa, Eklund and also Hoskins Sotutu, who has earned his first start for the Blues at No 8.
“We have some genuine competition across the squad and Hoskins has impressed us with his fitness and approach this season and really demanded his opportunity with his pre-season play. He is a product of our development programme through the grades, a second-generation Blues player from the family and has worked hard for his opportunity.”
MacDonald is also looking at the side’s overall mobility with the decision to start Tom Robinson at lock, after his impressive pre-season.
There is a strong look to the bench that includes All Blacks Ofa Tuungafasi and Karl Tu’inukuafe, Samoan international Ray Niuia.
There are several players with minor injuries who are not available for the opening round including James Parsons (back), Otere Black (rib), Finlay Christie (neck), Gerard Cowley-Tuioti (shoulder), Ezekiel Lindenmuth, Jared Page, Tanielu Tele’a while James Tucker is waiting on scan results on an injured knee.
The team is:
1. Alex Hodgman, 2. Kurt Eklund, 3. Sione Mafileo, 4. Patrick Tuipulotu ©, 5. Tom Robinson, 6. Dalton Papalii, 7. Tony Lamborn, 8. Hoskins Sotutu; 9. Jonathan Ruru, 10. Stephen Perofeta, 11. Rieko Ioane, 12. TJ Faiane, 13. Joe Marchant, 14. Mark Telea, 15. Matt Duffie, 16. Ray Niuia, 17. Karl Tu’inukuafe, 18. Ofa Tuungafasi, 19. Josh Goodhue, 20. Blake Gibson; 21. Sam Nock, 22. Harry Plummer, 23. Emoni Narawa.