Auckland Blues Super Rugby head coach Tana Umaga has named a largely unchanged side to play their neighbours and perennial rivals, the Chiefs in what is their first home game of the Super Rugby season at Eden Park on Friday.
All Black Patrick Tuipulotu, who came off the bench in the narrow loss to the Highlanders in Dunedin last week, will get his start at lock with Scott Scrafton, with the experienced Jimmy Tupou back to full fitness to start at loose forward.
All Black Jerome Kaino, who earlier today announced he will finish his distinguished career at the Blues at the end of the season, will come off the bench for his first game of the season after recovery from injury.
The changes in the backline will see TJ Faiane in place of Sonny Bill Williams, who has not recovered sufficiently from a knee injury but is expected to join the squad that heads to South Africa at the weekend.
Also Melani Nanai gets a start at fullback with Michael Collins to come off the bench.
The other change in the pack has the experienced Pauliasi Manu to start at loosehead prop with Alex Hodgman as reserve.
Coach Tana Umaga said the side had produced a lot of excellent work in the opener against the Highlanders.
“For much of the game we put in some solid performances in most phases of our game, and in that regard most of the team has been retained,” said Umaga.
“Some lack of discipline proved very costly and we have addressed that this week. At the same time we did a lot of very good things. We take confidence from that going into this game, knowing though that we will need to take a further step up if we are to get the result at home that we and our fans are pretty keen to earn.”
Umaga said the loss of Williams was significant but that TJ Faiane has been impressive in training and brings a different skillset to the game. And he was very pleased that Tuipulotu and Kaino are back in the playing squad.
1. Pauliasi Manu, 2. James Parsons, 3. Ofa Tuungafasi, 4. Patrick Tuipulotu, 5. Scott Scrafton, 6. Jimmy Tupou, 7. Murphy Taramai, 8. Akira Ioane; 9. Augustine Pulu ©, 10. Bryn Gatland, 11. Rieko Ioane, 12. TJ Faiane, 13. George Moala, 14. Matt Duffie,15. Melani Nanai.
Replacements: 16. Leni Apisai, 17. Alex Hodgman, 18. Michael Tamoaieta, 19. Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, 20 Jerome Kaino, 21. Sam Nock, 22. Daniel Kirkpatrick, 23. Michael Collins.
Players not considered because of injury: Otere Black (knee), Blake Gibson (shoulder), Matt Moulds (knee), Dalton Papalii (hand), Stephen Perofeta (hand), Kara Pryor (ankle), Isaac Salmon (elbow), Sonny Bill Williams (knee), Sione Mafileo (knee).