Charlie Faumuina, Steven Luatua and Piri Weepu have been named in a strong Blues team to face the Chiefs in their final pre-season hit-out in Rotorua on Friday (kick-off 6pm).
Faumuina and Luatua will be integrated back into the team and join fellow All Black teammates Francis Saili, Frank Halai and Charles Piutau in the starting XV, while Weepu has recovered from knee surgery in the off-season to start at halfback.
The trio are expected to get through 40 minutes of work before being substituted in the second half.
“It has been difficult for the All Blacks that have come in late. We’re just trying to get them into some contact and get them back playing,” Blues head coach Sir John Kirwan said.
“I think we’ll see similar to what we saw from Francis and Charles last week in their first game back, just getting out there and having a hit around and we’ll then expect a bit more from them the week after.”
Kirwan said Faumuina, Luatua and Weepu were chomping at the bit to return to action and that he’d had to curb their enthusiasm.
“They can’t wait but we’ve been holding them back a wee bit,” Kirwan said.
“It’s been more about their health than anything else, especially the younger guys like Steven. He’s really keen to go and I know Charlie is excited too, he’s in our leadership group so he can’t wait.
“Piri is obviously keen to play, he’s just one of those guys who loves playing so I think he’ll also be ready.”
Benji Marshall will continue in the number 10 jersey while George Moala has been named at centre for the third successive week, with Kirwan impressed by his development.
“I think George is going to have a special year,” Kirwan said.
“He’s a centre / wing cover and he is playing centre and we’re going to keep playing him there so he gets used to that role. I’m also very happy with Albert Nikoro at fullback, I think he’s coming along really well.
“Lolagi is getting better every week so from a combination point of view we need to make sure we’ve got a full squad and we can cover something if it happens and I’m feeling confident that those guys can do that.”
“It was a good hit-out for us last week, the Waratahs were better organised so this week I just want to see our organisation coming into it and really just a bit more zing.
“It should be a bit more game-like, we’ve got to start preparing mentally as well. The pre-season is over – this is our final trial and we just need to make sure that we come out of it with confidence to start the season.
“I’m not worried about the result but it would be good to play well and walk off the field knowing we’re ready to go for the year.
The Blues team to face the Chiefs at Rotorua International Stadium on Friday night (kick-off 6pm) is:
1. Sam Prattley
2. James Parsons
3. Charlie Faumuina
4. Liaki Moli
5. Tom Donnelly
6. Steven Luatua
7. Luke Braid
8. Peter Saili
9. Piri Weepu
10. Benji Marshall
11. Lolagi Visinia
12. Francis Saili
13. George Moala
14. Frank Halai
15. Charles Piutau