Super Rugby champions the Hurricanes have named Otere Black in their starting line up as they kick off their Super Rugby title defence against the Sunwolves in Tokyo on Saturday.
Black gets the starting role ahead of regular Hurricanes first-five Beauden Barrett, who will start the match from a reserves bench that includes captain and hooker Dane Coles.
Hurricanes head coach Chris Boyd said Barrett and Coles were both continuing their return to play protocols after a big 2016 season and it made sense to manage their entry into Super Rugby.
“Beauden and Dane are both following their return to play protocols and part of that is that they were always going to have a graduated entry into the Super Rugby season.
“They’re both key guys for us and there is no benefit in pushing them any faster than we need to, but they’ll both have a part to play in Tokyo.”
Boyd said the Hurricanes were lucky to have genuine depth at first five.
“Otere was calling the shots right through the preseason and had a good handle on things before our All Blacks joined the group. We have every confidence in his abilities.”
Black is hardly a rookie with the Manawatu pivot having played for the Hurricanes seven times since his debut in 2015 against the Rebels in Wellington.
Coles’ absence from the starting spot means halfback TJ Perenara will captain the side with Ricky Riccitelli wearing the No 2 jersey between props Jeffery To’omaga-Allen and Chris Eves.
One player who will be a rookie in Tokyo is Jordie Barrett who is set to make his Super Rugby debut at fullback.
Barrett has impressed during the Hurricanes preseason and gets an early chance to impress in the competition proper after a hamstring injury ruled Nehe Milner-Skudder out of the first match.
Barrett, 20, won’t be the only Hurricanes player on debut against the Sunwolves, with lock James Blackwell to start at lock and loose forward Reed Prinsep among the reserves.
Wellington’s Blackwell will start alongside Michael Fatialofa in the second row, while Canterbury recruit Prinsep provides loose forward and lock cover from the bench.
Boyd said his squad was excited about the prospect of becoming the first New Zealand Super Rugby team to play the Sunwolves and expecting a tough match in Japan.
“No doubt they will be highly motivated to knock us off our perch. They are well coached and they gave some very good teams a hurry up in Tokyo last season.”
The Hurricanes will play the Sunwolves at Prince Chichibu Stadium in Tokyo on Saturday, February 25.
15 Jordie Barrett , 14 Cory Jane , 13 Matt Proctor , 12 Ngani Laumape , 11 Julian Savea , 10 Otere Black , 9 TJ Perenara (c) , 8 Blade Thomson , 7 Ardie Savea , 6 Brad Shields , 5 Michael Fatialofa , 4 James Blackwell , 3 Jeffery To’omaga-Allen , 2 Ricky Riccitelli , 1 Chris Eves
Replacements : Dane Coles, Ben May, Mike Kainga, Reed Prinsep, Callum Gibbins, Chris Smylie, Beauden Barrett, Vince Aso.