PREVIEW: Blues get their All Blacks back
SUPER RUGBY PRE-SEASON: The Blues have brought in their All Blacks for their final pre-season match against the Hurricanes ahead of the start of the Super Rugby Championship.
Ofa Tu'ungafasi, Jerome Kaino, Rieko Ioane, Sonny Bill Williams and Matt Duffie will start in the match with Patrick Tuipulotu to join in the second half.
Ofa joins Alex Hodgman in the front row with hooker James Parsons returning for his first action of the season, as will Scott Scrafton who starts at lock with Josh Goodhue.
Captain Augustine Pulu starts at scrumhalf inside Bryn Gatland who will guide a powerful backline that includes Sonny Bill, Rieko and Matt. This group will play the first half only with a new combination to play the second half.
Coach Tana Umaga said the starting group had all trained well last week while the Tens team was in Brisbane, and he is pleased to see a number of players back after niggling injuries.
"The experienced players have merged into the squad seamlessly and have worked very hard, and it is also good to see a number of players back training fully after some time out with injuries," said Tana.
"This is our last hit out before Super Rugby so it is an important game for us to test our systems and our combinations. We will give most of the squad the opportunity to put their hands up for consideration for our first Super game."
Umaga said while it was great to win the Brisbane Global Tens title, his squad have immediately switched their attention to the upcoming Super Rugby season.
"We are excited to transfer the hard work on the practice field, in the gym and in our planning into the game situation.
"As a group we are also excited to support the Mahurangi club and take this game to Warkworth where our North Harbour and Northland fans can more easily come and watch us."
Hurricanes head coach Chris Boyd has named 32 players to take part in the match at Warkworth, just a day before the squad departs for South Africa for their opening Super Rugby match against the Bulls.
Boyd stressed the importance of carrying on that momentum when they face the Blues.
"As a coaching unit we were really pleased with the decision making the players showed in Greymouth," he said.
"While we were also delighted with how the group progressed through the Global Rugby Tens tournament, it was also really pleasing to return to New Zealand and get such positive reports about the work the remaining squad had put in.
"Hopefully we will be able to continue that progress against the Blues who have already shown that they are progressing nicely in 2018."
New Hurricanes recruit Ihaia West starts at first five-eighth with Beauden Barrett set to join the squad to face the Bulls in Pretoria.
The pre-season match also provides an ideal opportunity for the coaching group to gauge the progress of a number of players before they leave New Zealand.
Blues first-half team: 15 Melani Nanai, 14 Matt Duffie or Jordan Trainor, 13 TJ Faiane, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 Rieko Ioane, 10 Bryn Gatland, 9 Augustine Pulu (captain), 8 Jimmy Tupou, 7 Dalton Papalii, 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Scott Scrafton, 4 Josh Goodhue, 3 Ofa Tu’ungafasi, 2 James Parsons, 1 Alex Hodgman.
Blues second-half team: 15 Jordan Trainor, 14 Tamati Tua, 13 Orbyn Leger, 12 TJ Faiane, 11 Jordan Hyland, 10 Daniel Kirkpatrick, 9 Jonathan Ruru, 8 Akira Ioane, 7 Murphy Taramai, 6 Glenn Preston, 5 Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, 4 Patrick Tuipulotu, 3 Sione Mafileo, 2 Leni Apisai, 1 Pauliasi Manu.
Replacements: Mike Tamoaieta, Ross Wright, Jacob Pierce, Sione Havili, Sam Nock, George Moala.
Hurricanes: 15 Matt Proctor, 14 Julian Savea, 13 Vince Aso, 12 Ngani Laumape, 11 Wes Goosen, 10 Ihaia West, 9 TJ Perenara, 8 Gareth Evans, 7 Ardie Savea, 6 Brad Shields, 5 Vaea Fifita, 4 Sam Lousi, 3 Ben May, 2 Ricky Riccitelli, 1 Toby Smith
Replacements: Asafo Aumua, James O'Reilly, Alex Fidow, Chris Eves, Fraser Armstrong, Murray Douglas, James Blackwell, Michael Fatialofa, Sam Henwood, Reed Prinsep, Blade Thomson, Jamie Booth, Jackson Garden-Bachop, Chase Tiatia, Ben Lam, Jonah Lowe, Trent Renata.
Date: Thursday, February 15
Venue: Mahurangi Rugby Club, Warkworth A&P Showgrounds
Kick-off: 16.00 (03.00 GMT)