Blues Super Rugby head coach Tana Umaga has named Rene Ranger and Jimmy Tupou in his team to play the Queensland Reds in Apia on Friday.
The historic contest will be the first ever Super Rugby match played in Samoa and the first major game under lights at Apia Park.
Ranger, the six-test All Black, missed last year with an ACL injury with his return this season cut short with a serious ankle injury.
Tupou, who played 37 times for the Crusaders before returning home last year, was a key part of the side both on and off the field before a hamstring injury sidelined him for half of the season.
Both return after strong showings in club rugby.
Excellent form against the Chiefs last week has rewarded North Harbour’s Sione Mafileo and a returning Alex Hodgman with starts in the front row alongside captain James Parsons, with Tupou joining All Black Steven Luatua and Kara Pryor in an exciting and mobile loose forward combination.
Youthful Northland pivot Sam Nock makes his first start at halfback to spark a backline where in-form Rieko Ioane, with nine tries this year, forms a dangerous back three with exciting runners Melani Nanai and Declan O’Donnell.
Several players have niggling injuries after a demanding month which has forced Umaga to sit out Augustine Pulu, Blake Gibson, Matt Duffie and George Moala. Additionally Sonny Bill Williams has not recovered sufficiently from the knee injury that forced him off against the Chiefs, and Charlie Faumuina has tonsillitis.
However there is star quality on the bench led by All Black Ofa Tu’ungafasi, the impressive Akira Ioane and the exciting first-five Stephen Perofeta.
“We know this is a special game and a special occasion for the Blues to bring a home game to Samoa,” Umaga said. “We have a significant number of our club who have heritage in Samoa, including myself, and it is a privilege for so many of our team to return home to play in front of friends and family.
“It is important for us to respect that with a strong performance. We have two games left in the Super Rugby season and we desperately want to continue our progression.
“At the same time we have a number of players who really need some time out after an extremely heavy load so they can freshen to be considered for the game against the Lions only four days after we return.”
1. Alex Hodgman, 2. James Parsons (c), 3. Sione Mafileo, 4. Patrick Tuipulotu, 5. Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, 6 Jimmy Tupou, 7.Kara Pryor, 8. Steven Luatua; 9. Sam Nock, 10. Piers Francis, 11. Rieko Ioane, 12. TJ Faiane, 13. Rene Ranger, 14. Declan O’Donnell, 15. Melani Nanai.
Replacements: 16. Hame Faiva, 17. Sam Prattley, 18. Ofa Tu’ungafasi, 19. Akira Ioane, 20. Murphy Taramai, 21. Billy Guyton, 22. Stephen Perofeta, 23. Jordan Trainor.