New-look Blues to face Les Bleus
Hooker James Parsons will captain a new-look Blues outfit against France at North Harbour Stadium on Tuesday night.
In the absence of Ali Williams and Luke Braid who are both being rested, 26-year-old Parsons will lead the Blues for the first time and said it was a privilege to captain the Franchise.
"It's a huge honour," Parsons said.
"I've been leading Harbour and staying in the region for a long time. At the start of the year I just wanted some game time and to get the opportunity to captain the Blues is just a huge honour and it means a lot to me and my family."
It will be the first time a New Zealand Super Rugby Franchise has played an international team, and Blues head coach John Kirwan could not hide his excitement about what a fantastic opportunity it is.
"I think it's an incredible opportunity for us to play some players who haven't had much of a chance and just really get those boys out there with no real pressure except playing a great international side and having the opportunity to express themselves," Kirwan said.
"I'd love to play the best possible side we can but we have our All Blacks away and some guys really deserve a chance. We've got young guys like 20-year-old centre Malakai Fekitoa and schoolboy Tevita Li in so for me it's a fantastic opportunity for the franchise.
"We have to compete and we have to play well otherwise these games won't be put in the schedules and I think we all like them. I'm really excited about it."
With six of their front line players away with the All Blacks, the Blues could easily have been tempted to use this as a training run and not take it as seriously.
But Kirwan said he was treating Tuesday's match as importantly as any Super Rugby fixture this season, doing their video analysis, training hard and ensuring all the preparation has been done during the week to produce a quality performance against one of the world's leading international teams.
"There’s absolutely no way I'd take it any other way," Kirwan said.
"These guys that are putting on the Blues jersey have an incredible responsibility to be the first New Zealand franchise to play an international team. They're playing big games so they need to play well.
"Some guys in the team are under a microscope and they need to take their opportunities – guys like Kane Barrett and Malakai Fekitoa, so we've got guys in the football team that haven't had a lot of game time and they need to say to us 'we’re ready' so I'm expecting them to get out there to compete and win the football game."
There is a special place in Kirwan's heart for the French. He played his first All Black Test against them, played his record breaking 63rd Test against them and also marked current French coach Philippe Saint-André.
Kirwan was unsure what to expect from the French but knew his side would be in for one hell of a challenge.
"I don't know because you never know what to expect against the French the way they play. I'm expecting a strong team because I think some of the players who played in the club final can't play in the first Test because they haven't been able to train so I'm expecting a French rugby team that will express themselves a bit more without too much pressure."
Blues: 15 Marty McKenzie, 14 Frank Halai, 13 Malakai Fekitoa, 12 Jackson Willison, 11 George Moala, 10 Baden Kerr, 9 Jamison Gibson-Park, 8 Peter Saili, 7 Brendon O’Connor, 6 Kane Barrett, 5 Culum Retallick, 4 Anthony Boric, 3 Ofa Tu'ungafasi, 2 James Parsons (captain), 1 Sam Prattley.
Replacements: 16 Quentin MacDonald, 17 Angus Ta’avao, 18 Liaki Moli, 19 Ronald Raaymakers, 20 Sean Polwart, 21 Chris Noakes, 22 Tevita Li, 23 Wayne Ngaluafe.
Date: Tuesday, June 11
Venue: North Harbour Stadium, North Harbour
Referee: Jaco Peyper (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Richard Kelly (New Zealand), Shane McDermott (New Zealand)
TMO: Glenn Newman (New Zealand)