Auckland – No 8 Akira Ioane will celebrate his 50th game for the Blues in Saturday’s Super Rugby opener against the Crusaders at Eden Park.
Kick-off is at 08:35 SA time.
Ioane has showed his resilience in amassing 48 Super Rugby games and the memorable win over the British and Irish Lions, playing in every game for the Blues over the last two seasons.
While he plays his 50th, Otere Black has shown his patience to make his long-awaited debut at flyhalf after missing the entire 2018 Super season with injury.
Strong pre-season form has been rewarded with the inclusion of North Harbour’s Sione Mafileo at tighthead prop, Northland’s Josh Goodhue at lock, Auckland captain TJ Faiane in the midfield and the debut of robust loose forward Tom Robinson from Northland.
There will be considerable interest in the inclusion of Ma’a Nonu at outside centre, returning to the Blues for a third time and for his 161st Super Rugby game, the most capped player in the competition.
TJ Faiane starts at inside centre, with All Blacks star Sonny Bill Williams benched.
15 Michael Collins, 14 Melani Nanai, 13 Ma’a Nonu, 12 TJ Faiane, 11 Rieko Ioane, 10 Otere Black, 9 Jonathan Ruru, 8 Akira Ioane, 7 Dalton Papalii, 6 Tom Robinson, 5 Josh Goodhue, 4 Patrick Tuipulotu (captain), 3 Sione Mafileo, 2 James Parsons, 1 Alex Hodgman
Substitutes: 16 Matt Moulds, 17 Karl Tu’inukuafe, 18 Ofa Tu’ungafasi, 19 Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, 20 Matt Matich, 21 Augustine Pulu, 22 Harry Plummer, 23 Sonny Bill Williams
15 David Havili, 14 Manasa Mataele, 13 Braydon Ennor, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 George Bridge, 10 Richie Mo’unga, 9 Bryn Hall, 8 Whetu Douglas, 7 Matt Todd (captain), 6 Jordan Taufua, 5 Quinten Strange, 4 Scott Barrett, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Andrew Makalio, 1 Joe Moody
Substitutes: 16 Ben Funnell, 17 Tim Perry, 18 Michael Alaalatoa, 19 Luke Romano, 20 Tom Sanders, 21 Mitchell Drummond, 22 Mitchell Hunt, 23 Will Jordan