All Black loose forwards Dalton Papalii and Akira Ioane return to the Blues starting line-up for Saturday’s second round of the Investec Super Rugby Aotearoa against the Chiefs in Hamilton.
They are the only changes from the team that accounted for the Hurricanes 30-20 in the first-round clash at Eden Park.
Papalii, who came off the bench last week, starts at No 7 while Ioane, with 68 Blues caps to his credit, comes in at No 6 replacing Blake Gibson and tom Robinson respectively, who are both unavailable due to injury.
The Blues have the same front five but are bolstered with the return of North Harbour’s Sione Mafileo, one of the standouts earlier in the season, who will earn his 50th cap off the bench.
The trio of in-form Hoskins Sotutu, Papalii and Ioane will form a potent trio in what should be a pivotal battle at the breakdown.
The backline remains unchanged with Otere Black, who celebrated his blazer game for the Blues in the win over the Hurricanes, remains at first-five with Beauden Barrett again starting at fullback, to form an exciting back four with Rieko Ioane at centre and wins Caleb Clarke and Mark Telea.
Coach Leon MacDonald said while several other players have pushed their claims for selection at training, that the efforts last week warranted their retention.
“We know that last week was a good start but that we will need to get better if we want a positive result against the Chiefs,” said MacDonald.
“The players who took the field will be better for that experience, especially understanding the importance of discipline at the breakdown and getting back into competition after so long off.
“We know that depth will be really important in this competition and we are fortunate to have the likes of Dalton and Akira to come into the starting line-up. Parts of our play were good last week but we must lift to another level against what we know is a very good and very physical Chiefs side as well as a healthy rivalry with our neighbours.”
The Blues team is: 15 Beauden Barrett, 14 Mark Telea, 13 Rieko Ioane, 12 TJ Faiane, 11 Caleb Clarke, 10 Otere Black, 9 Sam Nock; 8 Hoskins Sotutu, 7 Dalton Papalii, 6 Akira Ioane, 5 Josh Goodhue, 4 Patrick Tuipulotu ©, 3 Ofa Tuungafasi, 2 James Parsons, 1 Alex Hodgman.
Reserves: 16 Kurt Eklund, 17 Marcel Renata, 18 Sione Mafileo, 19 Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, 20 Tony Lamborn, 21 Finlay Christie, 22 Harry Plummer, 23 Matt Duffie.
Players not considered with injury: Karl Tu’inukuafe (leg strain), Jack Heighton (quad), Jared Page (pec), Stephen Perofeta (fractured foot), Blake Gibson (hamstring), Tom Robinson (knee). Season ending: Ray Niuia, James Tucker, Tanielu Tele’a