A powerful display off the bench last week has earned All Black Patrick Tuipulotu a start for the Blues in their Super Rugby clash against the Stormers at Eden Park on Saturday.
Tuipulotu, who announced he is returning for the Blues and New Zealand Rugby next year, is one of only two changes to the Blues team that beat the Highlanders at home last week.
In the backs, Otere Black will start with Harry Plummer to come off the bench.
The in-form props Alex Hodgman and Sione Mafileo will start together for the third time which means All Blacks Karl Tu’inukuafe and Ofa Tuungafasi will again look to make a significant impact off the bench in the second half.
The loose forward combination of Blake Gibson, who shares the captaincy with Tuipulotu, Tom Robinson and Akira Ioane combine for the third time in the starting line-up, with All Black Dalton Papalii, who this week has re-signed for a further three years, will add impetus off the bench.
The midfield duo of Ma’a Nonu and TJ Faiane are paired again, with Sonny Bill Williams, back after a week off, on the reserves’ bench.
“There’s good competition for places in the team and that is creating some quality efforts at training which is what we want,” said coach Leon MacDonald.
“It also gives us some energy off the bench which is important in these games.
“This is another opportunity for us at home. The win last week has added to our confidence and we want to play well at Eden Park in front of our fans. That win won’t mean much unless we can continue to improve our performances with every game.
“The Stormers are going to bring a very different challenge than the Highlanders and we must be better if we are to get a positive result.”
The Blues team to take on the Stormers at Eden Park on Saturday at 7.35pm is:
15 Melani Nanai, 14 Tanielu Tele’a, 13 TJ Faiane, 12 Ma’a Nonu, 11 Rieko Ioane, 10 Otere Black, 9 Jonathan Ruru; 8 Akira Ioane, 7 Blake Gibson, 6 Tom Robinson, 5 Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, 4 Patrick Tuipulotu, 3 Sione Mafileo, 2 James Parsons, 1. Alex Hodgman. Reserves: 16 Matt Moulds, 17 Karl Tu’inukuafe, 18 Ofa Tuungafasi, 19 Scott Scrafton, 20 Dalton Papalii, 21 Augustine Pulu, 22 Harry Plummer, 23 Sonny Bill Williams.
Not considered because of injury: Jimmy Tupou (knee), Jacob Pierce (ankle), Ezekiel Lindenmuth (knee), Stephen Perofeta (shoulder/pectoral), Caleb Clarke (knee), Jordan Trainor (thigh), Josh Goodhue (Shoulder).