Gatland gets the Blues No.10 jumper
North Harbour’s Gatland – son of Wales coach Warren Gatland – will win his fifth cap for the Blues and start in the No.10 jersey.
There is a lot of pressure on the 22-year-old giving that he needs to fill the void left by Otere Black (ACL) and Stephen Perofeta (hand), who are currently injured.
Gatland will new captain Augustine Pulu as the halfback pair.
Other notable absences include starting flanks Jerome Kaino (ankle) and Blake Gibson (shoulder). North Harbour duo Glenn Preston and Murphy Taramai will start in the back row.
The Blues backline features plenty of star power, with All Blacks Rieko Ioane and Matt Duffie occupying the wings. Sonny Bill Williams and George Moala will man the midfield.
In total, the Blues have 12 players unavailable for selection due to injury.
"Everyone is excited to get the season underway and I’m pleased with the attitude and application from our players in pre-season," said Umaga.
"We continued to improve last year but we know that we need to do better against our fellow New Zealand teams, especially with two full derby rounds this year, and also deliver on those key moments in what is going to be a very tight and tough season.
"We have a few players with longer-term injuries, and some with lesser injuries that could have possibly played if pushed, but this is a long season and player welfare is really important,"
Blues: 15 Michael Collins, 14 Matt Duffie, 13 George Moala, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 Rieko Ioane, 10 Bryn Gatland, 9 Augustine Pulu (captain), 8 Akira Ioane, 7 Murphy Taramai, 6 Glenn Preston, 5 Scott Scrafton, 4 Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, 3 Ofa Tuungafasi, 2 James Parsons, 1 Alex Hodgman.
Replacements: 16 Leni Apisai, 17 Pauliasi Manu, 18 Michael Tamoaieta, 19 Patrick Tuipulotu, 20 Sione Havili/Antonio Kiri Kiri, 21 Jonathan Ruru, 22 Daniel Kirkpatrick, 23 Melani Nanai.
Date: Friday, February 23
Venue: Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin
Kick-off: 19.35 (6.35 GMT)
Referee: Jamie Nutbrown (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Nick Briant (New Zealand), James Doleman (New Zealand)
TMO: Aaron Paterson (New Zealand)