Irrepressible hooker James Parsons is set to become just the sixth Blues player to earn 100 caps for his club when they take on the Highlanders in the Investec Super Rugby clash in Dunedin on Saturday.
Parsons, 32, has been named to start in what will be his 100thcap for the club and 98thin Super Rugby, having played against the touring French and British and Irish Lions.
The side has a settled look with the backline unchanged and only one swap in the forwards from the side that narrowly lost to the Chiefs last weekend, with Sione Mafileo and Ofa Tuungafasi exchanging roles in the front row.
Parsons, who began his Super Rugby career against the Highlanders in 2012, will become the joint fastest Blues player to reach the 100 caps, joining fellow prop John Afoa, both earning the mark in eight seasons.
Rated as one of the most professional players in the game, Parsons also gives back off it. He is on the Board of the New Zealand Rugby Players Association, a regular contributor on SKY Television and hosts his own weekly rugby show on Radio Sport.
Blues legend and most capped player, Keven Mealamu is glowing in his praise of the player who followed him as the first-choice hooker.
“It is so great to see JP earn his 100thgame for the Blues,” said Mealamu. “He is a professional in every sense, an awesome teammate and a great man as well. This is so well deserved for such a true Blues man.”
Coach Leon MacDonald said while the side wants to produce a fitting performance for Parsons, more importantly they are looking to build on the strong form that saw them come up just short last week and in the opening round clash against the Crusaders.
“We’ve yet to come out on the right side of the leger at Forsyth Barr Stadium although it will provide us with the type of surface we will enjoy. And the team will also want to produce an effort of quality to lift the Gordon Hunter Memorial Trophy,” said MacDonald.
“We need to continue to raise our performances each and every week, cherish our ball more and ensure we come out on the right side of the physical battle at the breakdown.”
The other change is in the reserves where Leni Apisai comes in on to the bench for just the second time this year.
Blues all-time leading appearances: Keven Mealamu 164, Jerome Kaino 139, Tony Woodcock 137, Ali Williams 102, John Afoa 101, James Parsons and Charlie Faumuina 99.
The Blues team is:
Starting XV: 15 Melani Nanai, 14 Caleb Clarke, 13 TJ Faiane, 12 Ma’a Nonu, 11 Rieko Ioane, 10 Otere Black, 9 Jonathan Ruru, 8 Akira Ioane, 7 Dalton Papalii, 6 Tom Robinson, 5 Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, 4 Patrick Tuipulotu ©, 3 Sione Mafileo, 2 James Parsons, 1. Karl Tu’inukuafe. Reserves: 16 Leni Apisai, 17 Alex Hodgman, 18 Ofa Tuungafasi, 19 Josh Goodhue, 20 Jed Brown, 21 Sam Nock, 22 Harry Plummer, 23 Matt Duffie. Not considered because of injury: Blake Gibson (knee), Sonny Bill Williams (knee), Stephen Perofeta (shoulder/pectoral), Jordan Trainor (thigh), Tanielu Tele’a (suspended).