Blues welcome back injured stars
TEAM ANNOUNCEMENT: The Blues welcome back the experienced pair of Rene Ranger and Jimmy Tupou for their historic clash against the Reds in Apia on Friday.
It will be the first Super Rugby match in Samoa and the first major game under lights at Apia Park.
Ranger, the six-Test All Black, missed last year with an ACL injury with his return this season cut short with a serious ankle injury.
Tupou, who played 37 times for the Crusaders before returning home last year, was a key part of the side both on and off the field before a hamstring injury sidelined him for half of the season.
Both return after strong showings in club rugby.
Excellent form against the Chiefs last week has rewarded North Harbour's Sione Mafileo and a returning Alex Hodgman with starts in the front row alongside captain James Parsons, with Tupou joining All Black Steven Luatua and Kara Pryor in an exciting and mobile loose forward combination.
Youthful Northland pivot Sam Nock makes his first start at scrumhalf to spark a backline where in-form Rieko Ioane, with nine tries this year, forms a dangerous back three with exciting runners Melani Nanai and Declan O'Donnell.
Several players have niggling injuries after a demanding month which has forced Umaga to sit out Augustine Pulu, Blake Gibson, Matt Duffie and George Moala. Additionally Sonny Bill Williams has not recovered sufficiently from the knee injury that forced him off against the Chiefs, and Charlie Faumuina has tonsillitis.
However there is star quality on the bench led by All Black Ofa Tu'ungafasi, the impressive Akira Ioane and the exciting flyhalf Stephen Perofeta.
Blues: 15 Melani Nanai,14 Declan O'Donnell, 13 Rene Ranger, 12 Tinoai Faiane, 11 Rieko Ioane, 10 Piers Francis, 9 Sam Nock, 8 Steven Luatua, 7 Kara Pryor, 6 Jimmy Tupou, 5 Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, 4 Patrick Tuipulotu, 3 Sione Mafileo, 2 James Parsons (captain),
1 Alex Hodgman.
Replacements: 16 Hame Faiva, 17 Sam Prattley, 18 Ofa Tu'ungafasi, 19 Akira Ioane, 20 Murphy Taramai, 21 Billy Guyton, 22 Stephen Perofeta, 23 Jordan Trainor.
Date: Friday, June 2
Venue: Apia Park, Apia
Kick-off: 20.35 (19.35 NZ time; 17.35 AEST; 07.35 GMT)
Referee: Ben O'Keeffe (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Will Houston (New Zealand), Angus Mabey (New Zealand)
TMO: Shane McDermott (New Zealand)