World Cup winning All Black lock Ali Williams has been relegated to the bench and outside back Lachie Munro has been axed from the 22 altogether for Friday night’s match against the Sharks at Eden Park (kick-off 7.35pm).
In the wake of the Blues’ fifth loss in six matches, head coach Pat Lam has promoted up-and-coming lock Liaki Moli to the starting XV as he looks to inject some energy and fresh legs into the forward pack.
“Ali has started every game and he’s working himself into some good rugby but we need some fresh legs and I think Ali coming off the bench will give us that leadership at a crucial time in the match,” Lam said.
“In Filo and Liaki, you’ve got two young guys who have been pushing hard at training and when they’ve been given the opportunity, particularly last week, they brought a lot of energy. We’re going to need that and Ali will bring that off the bench.”
2011 Blues player of the Year Luke Braid returns from suspension to start at blindside flanker, partnering his older brother Daniel in the loose who resumes his starting duties after a stomach bug forced him to the bench last week.
“It’s good to have both Braid brothers returning. Luke’s work ethic and experience at the breakdown working alongside Dan is crucial to our game,” Lam said.
Brad Mika has failed to overcome a knee injury, with impressive loose forward Chris Lowrey moving from blindside flanker to number eight.
In the backs, Lam has retained the 9,10 combination of Alby Mathewson and Gareth Anscombe while Wider Training Group player Hadleigh Parkes replaces Lachie Munro on the wing.
“Hadleigh has been in the 22 for a number of weeks. He is a real workhorse with a good boot on him and will give everything for the team out there. He’s thrilled to be starting and will bring plenty of energy.”
Livewire back George Moala will make his first appearance in the 22 after a shoulder injury during the first pre-season match kept him on the sidelines, while Peter Saili has also been named on the bench after serving an internal two week suspension for breaking team protocol.