named on the bench
Ma'a Nonu will start at inside centre when the Blues host the Waratahs in a Round 11 Super Rugby clash in Auckland on Friday.
Blues head coach Sir John Kirwan has made four changes to the starting line-up for Friday’s ANZAC day encounter and three of them are in the backline.
Nonu has bounced back from a tight calf which caused him to miss last week's 20-39 loss to the Hurricanes and will start in the number 12 jersey ahead of Jackson Willison - who drops out of the matchday squad.
Kirwan said it was great to welcome back his backline enforcer.
"He’s been fantastic for us so far, he’s had a little bit of a bad run with his first injury and getting straight back into it he just tightened up a bit last week," the coach said.
"He’s brought a lot of edge to us and I thought he played really well against the Highlanders and I’m really looking forward to him getting us over the advantage line and doing what Ma’a does best on Friday night."
Chris Noakes was ruled out of the Waratahs clash earlier in the week following a concussion he sustained against the Hurricanes, so impressive 20-year-old Simon Hickey will start at flyhalf.
Frank Halai has also been reinstated to the starting line-up ahead of George Moala on the right wing after he produced strong cameo off the bench last week and Kirwan said he made the decision because Moala needs a rest.
"George has been playing a heck of a lot and he’s been playing very well," Kirwan said.
"We’ve asked him to play centre, left and right wing and I think he needs a break so after playing well off the bench last week we want to give Frank an opportunity to step up."
In the only change to the forward pack, Peter Saili makes his first start since Round Six at eighthman in place of Steven Luatua as Kirwan looks to inject more physicality into the Blues’ game.
"We wanted to pick a pack that was really physical," Kirwan said.
"The Waratahs are a big, strong pack so we’ve gone with Pete and he’s really physical so Steven will come off the bench later in the game and bring his spark."
There are more changes to the back on the bench.
Piri Weepu has been cleared to play after his various health issues and has been named on the bench in the place of Jamison Gibson-Park.
Former New Zealand Under-20 flyhalf Ihaia West is poised to make his Super Rugby debut from the bench after joining the Auckland-based side as a replacement player for the injured Baden Kerr just two weeks ago. Benji Marshall has now officialy quit rugby union so he is no longer at the Blues.
In-form scrumhalf Bryn Hall will continue to start at number 9 but Kirwan is glad that Weepu in back in the frame to call on.
"Bryn has been playing really well so it will be great to have Piri’s experience on the bench and with Simon outside him and Ihaia who are both very young men, Piri’s experience will be really important so it’s great he’s been cleared to play," Kirwan said.
Blues: 15 Charles Piutau, 14 Frank Halai, 13 Francis Saili, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Lolagi Visinia, 10 Simon Hickey, 9 Bryn Hall, 8 Peter Saili, 7 Luke Braid (captain), 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Tom Donnelly, 4 Patrick Tuipulotu, 3 Charlie Faumuina, 2 Keven Mealamu, 1 Tony Woodcock.
Replacements: 16 James Parsons, 17 Sam Prattley, 18 Angus Ta'avao, 19 Hayden Triggs, 20 Steven Luatua, 21 Piri Weepu, 22 Ihaia West, 23 Pita Ahki.
Date: Friday, April 24
Venue: Eden Park Auckland
Kick-off: 17.35 (05.35 GMT; 15.35 AEST)
Referee: Chris Pollock (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Nick Briant (New Zealand), Mike Lash (New Zealand)
TMO: Glenn Newman (New Zealand)