Blues Super Rugby head coach Tana Umaga has named All Black Patrick Tuipulotu in his team to play the Cheetahs at home in Eden Park on Friday.
Tuipulotu has been sidelined with a back injury since the round six clash against the Force, and comes into the starting line-up with Gerard Cowley-Tuioti moving to the bench after starting in nine of the 10 games this season.
Fullback Michael Collins and winger Matt Duffie, who have started in all 10 games this season, have the opportunity to refresh ahead of a busy next four weeks, including travel to South Africa and Samoa.
Melani Nanai returns to the starting line-up at fullback with former New Zealand Sevens player Declan O’Donnell to make his Blues debut on the right wing after a lengthy time on the sideline following impressive pre-season form.
Meanwhile, TJ Faiane makes his second start in the midfield in place of Sonny-Bill Williams who has not fully recovered from his concussion injury against the Waratahs.
Blues coach Tana Umaga said Williams was improving but it was considered prudent to take the opportunity to rest him this week with the demanding schedule ahead over the next month.
The Blues also welcome back a raft of players from injury who get their chance off the reserves’ bench. They include prop Alex Hodgman who will make his Blues debut, Kara Pryor who played 13 times last season, Ihaia West who has missed four games with an ankle strain, and halfback Sam Nock, while Hame Faiva replaces an injured Matt Moulds.
“Most of these guys would have played already had they not been injured. They have worked really diligently in their recovery and all have been excellent in training and fully deserve their opportunities,” Tana said.
“Likewise our playing group have had a big run of games and we will be looking for the players coming in to add some real energy to the team.”
He added: “Last week we produced probably the best first half of the season but dropped off in the second half. We are still looking for 80 minutes of complete football.”
Rene Ranger (ankle), Stephen Perofeta (ankle), Jordon Trainor (shin), Brandon Nansen (wrist/hand), Jerome Kaino (knee) and Matt Moulds (knee) were all unavailable due to injury.
1 Pauliasi Manu, 2 James Parsons (c), 3 Charlie Faumuina, 4 Patrick Tuipulotu, 5 Scott Scrafton, 6 Steven Luatua, 7 Blake Gibson, 8 Akira Ioane; 9 Augustine Pulu, 10 Piers Francis, 11 Rieko Ioane, 12 TJ Faiane, 13. George Moala, 14 Declan O’Donnell, 15 Melani Nanai.
Replacements: 16 Hame Faiva, 17 Alex Hodgman, 18 Ofa Tu’ungafasi, 19 Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, 20 Kara Pryor, 21 Sam Nock, 22 Ihaia West, 23 Michael Collins.