Sonny Bill gets bench role against Highlanders
TEAM ANNOUNCEMENT: The Blues have included All Blacks star Sonny Bill Williams in their matchday 23 for their clash against the Highlanders on Saturday.
Williams has been named on the bench and if he is called upon it will be his first appearance since rupturing his Achilles at the Rio Olympics in August. He is joined on the bench by fellow All Blacks Ofa Tu'ungafasi along with Maori All Blacks Billy Guyton and Akira Ioane.
Meanwhile, the Blues welcome back three key players in a largely unchanged starting XV for their clash against the Highlanders in Dunedin on Saturday.
All Black Steven Luatua returns after suspension which allows coach Tana Umaga to rest Jimmy Tupou who has carried a significant workload in the opening six games.
Outstanding young flank Blake Gibson is back to full fitness to resume his openside loose forward role, while 21-year-old All Black Rieko Ioane earns a recall to the starting line-up after an outstanding contribution off the bench in the win over the Western Force last weekend. He will start at outside centre with fellow All Black George Moala moving to inside centre.
"We have missed Steven's undoubted skills and it also allows Jerome [Kaino] to return to his role at No.6 where he is regarded as the best in the world," Umaga said.
"Rieko is an extraordinary talent and showed his class off the bench to earn his spot back in the starting line-up."
Also coming on to the bench is North Harbour's Bryn Gatland, who trained with the Blues in pre-season and comes off a stint with the Crusaders, filling in for the injured first fives Ihaia West and Stephen Perofeta.
Blues: 15 Michael Collins, 14 Matt Duffie, 13 Rieko Ioane, 12 George Moala, 11 Melani Nanai, 10 Piers Francis, 9 Augustine Pulu, 8 Steven Luatua, 7 Blake Gibson, 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Scott Scrafton, 4 Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, 3 Charlie Faumuina, 2 James Parsons (captain), 1 Pauliasi Manu.
Replacements: 16 Matt Moulds, 17 Ofa Tu’ungafasi, 18 Sione Mafileo, 19 Patrick Tuipulotu, 20 Akira Ioane, 21 Billy Guyton, 22 Bryn Gatland, 23 Sonny Bill Williams.
Date: Saturday, April 8
Venue: Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin
Kick-off: 19.35 (07.35 GMT)
Referee: Jamie Nutbrown
Assistant referees: Mike Fraser, James Doleman
TMO: Shane McDermott