LONDON, United Kingdom, Feb 21 – The Blues welcome three All Blacks into their starting line-up to take on the Sharks in their Super Rugby encounter in Durban on Saturday.
Props Ofa Tuungafasi and Karl Tu’inukuafe join midfield back Sonny Bill Williams in the run-on side, following the Blues’ 24-22 loss to defending champions, the Crusaders, at home last weekend.
There’s a double celebration with Melani Nanai, starting a full-back, and number eight Akira Ioane playing in their 50th Super Rugby game for the Blues. Ioane, who also played for the Blues against the British and Irish Lions in 2017, celebrated 50 games for the club last week.
Tu’inukuafe and Tuungafasi make their first start together for the Blues, but both have also paired up with the All Blacks.
The remainder of the pack is the same that started against the Crusaders, including All Blacks Dalton Papalii and captain Patrick Tuipulotu.
Williams starts in his customary inside centre position with the in-form TJ Faiane at outside centre, while Ma’a Nonu is rested after his first game back in Super Rugby after four years last week.
New Zealand U20s winger Caleb Clarke moves to the right wing after a superb pre-season with star All Black Rieko Ioane on the left wing, while the free-running Nanai, impressive against the Crusaders, shifts to full-back.
Another New Zealand U20s player Tanielu Tele’a, a versatile outside back who also impressed in pre-season, is positioned for his debut off the bench.
Coach Leon Macdonald said he is looking for improvements against the Sharks, a dangerous and open-running team. While he was not involved last year, he said many of the team remembers the loss to the South African side at Eden Park last year.
15 Melani Nanai, 14 Caleb Clarke, 13 TJ Faiane, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 Rieko Ioane, 10 Otere Black, 9 Jonathan Ruru; 8 Akira Ioane, 7 Dalton Papalii, 6 Tom Robinson, 5 Josh Goodhue, 4 Patrick Tuipulotu (c), 3 Ofa Tuungafasi, 2 James Parsons, 1 Karl Tu’inukuafe.
16 Matt Moulds, 17 Alex Hodgman, 18 Sione Mafileo, 19 Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, 20 Matt Matich, 21 Augustine Pulu, 22 Harry Plummer, 23 Tanielu Tele’a.