The Blues have named a virtually unchanged side for their Easter clash against the current Investec Super Rugby champions, the Hurricanes at Eden Park on Saturday.
They welcome 33-Test All Black Sony Bill Williams as the only change to the starting line-up from last week’s match against the Highlanders.
The All Black front row of Pauliasi Manu, skipper James Parsons and Charlie Faumuina are backed by promising young locks Scott Scrafton and Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, who has played in all seven games this year and scored his first Super try against the Highlanders.
Steven Luatua is retained at No 8 after his outstanding 80-minute contribution last week after returning from suspension, and joins fellow All Black star Jerome Kaino and Blake Gibson in the loose forwards.
Williams will make his first start for the Blues at second five with Rieko Ioane at centre, which means that All Black George Moala will come off the bench.
Another All Black to provide impact off the bench is prop Ofa Tu’ungafasi and, if he plays, he will move to within one game of his 50th cap for the Blues. Former St Kents player Matt Duffie – a former NRL Melbourne Storm player – starts on the wing again.
Coach Tana Umaga said the team is looking forward to taking on the unbeaten Hurricanes.
“We are under no illusions that the Hurricanes will pose a tough test and we will need to be at our best for the whole 80 minutes.
“We continued to make progress last week and for much of the game played well but could not quite get across the line. We need to continue that improvement in all aspects, especially our decision-making at critical moments.”
The curtain raiser brings a repeat of last year’s schools rugby final with reigning champions Mt Albert Grammar hosting Hastings Boys High School.
The Blues team is:
1 Pauliasi Manu, 2 James Parsons ©, 3 Charlie Faumuina, 4 Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, 5 Scott Scrafton, 6 Jerome Kaino, 7 Blake Gibson, 8 Steven Luatua; 9 Augustine Pulu, 10 Piers Francis, 11 Melani Nanai, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 13. Rieko Ioane, 14 Matt Duffie, 15 Michael Collins.
Replacements: 16 Matt Moulds, 17 Ofa Tu’ungafasi, 18 Sione Mafileo, 19 Jimmy Tupou, 20 Akira Ioane, 21 Billy Guyton, 22 Bryn Gatland, 23 George Moala.
Unavailable due to injury/suspension: Rene Ranger (ankle), Stephen Perofeta (ankle), Branden Nansen (wrist/hand), Ihaia West (ankle), Declan O’Donnell (concussion), Patrick Tuipulotu (back).