Blues loaded with All Blacks
TEAM ANNOUNCEMENT: The Blues have named six All Blacks who will make their first start of the Super Rugby season to play the Highlanders at Eden Park on Saturday.
Co-Captains James Parsons and Jerome Kaino are named in the pack that also sees a start for prop Charlie Faumuina and lock Patrick Tuipulotu.
There's a further change in the forwards with North Harbour newcomer Murphy Taramai to make his first Super Rugby start at No 8. Coach Tana Umaga said Murphy has been rewarded for his excellent form in the pre-season and first two games, while Akira Ioane will provide his energy from the bench.
In the backs All Blacks George Moala comes in at inside centre and Rene Ranger on to the wing to replace the unlucky Piers Francis and Melani Nanai, who will see action off the bench.
Parsons will captain the side in his return after suffering from concussion early in the Nation Provincial Championship for North Harbour.
He completed 40 minutes of action for the Blues Development side last weekend.
Umaga said the team has welcomed back their All Blacks who are now ready for starting action.
"Jerome and Patrick had delayed starts while Charlie has worked his way to excellent form, and both George and Rene impressed when they came on last week against the Chiefs," Umaga said.
"There's good depth in this squad and so there is going to be times when strong players won’t get starts always."
Blues: 15 Michael Collins, 14 Matt Duffie, 13 Rieko Ioane, 12 George Moala, 11 Rene Ranger, 10 Ihaia West, 9 Augustine Pulu, 8 Murphy Taramai, 7 Blake Gibson, 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Patrick Tuipulotu, 4 Jimmy Tupou, 3 Charlie Faumuina, 2 James Parsons (captain), 1 Pauliasi Manu.
Replacements: 16 Matt Moulds, 17 Sam Prattley, 18 Ofa Tu’ungafasi, 19 Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, 20 Akira Ioane/Kara Pryor, 21 Billy Guyton, 22 Piers Francis, 23 Melani Nanai.
Date: Saturday, March 11
Venue: Eden Park, Auckland
Kick-off: 19.35 (06.35 GMT)
Referee: Glen Jackson (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Brendon Pickerill (New Zealand), Angus Mabey (New Zealand)
TMO: Shane McDermott (New Zealand)