The Blues will be out for revenge when they take on the Highlanders in what promises to be an exciting New Zealand derby in Auckland tonight.
These two sides met earlier this year in Dunedin with the Highlanders claiming a 41-34 victory and the Dunedin-based outfit will start this match as favourites as they have won nine of their last 12 games against the Blues, including each of their last three on the bounce.
Despite that impressive record against the Blues, the Highlanders will still be highly motivated to beat their hosts as they have never they won four matches in a row against the men from Auckland.
Indeed, the Highlanders are looking for back-to-back away wins against the Blues for the first time in Super Rugby, after also registering s 16-12 win at Eden Park last year.
This match will also present the Highlanders with the opportunity to claim their first away victory in 2018 as they lost their previous two fixtures on the road, against the Hurricanes and Chiefs in Rounds Six and Seven.
The Blues have, once again, battled to build momentum and despite beating the Sunwolves in Tokyo last weekend, they have only won two out of seven matches so far this season.
This game against the Highlanders starts a run of six games from seven at Eden Park, with Blues head coach Tana Umaga wanting the team to make full use of the home advantage.
“We have been mostly on the road with a tough two-game trip to South Africa and now a trip to Japan with a short turn around,” he said.
“But we are home at Eden Park in front of our fans and our families for the next few games. We want to make this our fortress in the coming weeks starting on Friday.
“All of the clubs have injuries and we are no different. But it gives opportunities for other players to stand up and bring some real enthusiasm to our team.
“We have improved over the last two weeks and once again we have to step up again to another level in every facet of our game. Our record against other New Zealand teams is well documented so we want to make our homecoming a special one.”
Team news: Blues head coach Tana Umaga has made several changes to his starting XV for this New Zealand derby. Bryn Gatland returns for his fifth start at fly-half, with in-form Stephen Perofeta, who has started in the last three games at number 10, moving to full-back.
It is not a role that is foreign to him, having played much of his time at Taranaki in that position, which offers him more room for his elusive running. Perofeta starts in the number 15 jersey with the other custodians Melani Nanai, Jordan Trainor and Michael Collins among the 18 walking-wounded not considered for selection by the Blues this week.
The tight five remains mostly intact with the versatile Jimmy Tupou moving into the second-row – a role he has played often – alongside the in-form Patrick Tuipulotu who will be honoured after the game having achieved his 50th cap for the Blues in last weekend’s win over the Sunwolves in Tokyo.
Last year’s New Zealand U20s player Dalton Papalii, impressive off the bench in Tokyo, gets his first start after injury earlier in the season, taking Tupou’s spot on the flank.
In the backs, Rieko Ioane moves back to his accustomed left wing where his battle with All Blacks team-mate Waisake Naholo should be a show-stopper, with TJ Faiane and Orbyn Leger paired in the midfield.
A storming debut with two tries for big Northland wing Jordan Hyland earns him a second start leaving All Black Matt Duffie to cover the back three spots off the bench.
Meanwhile, Highlanders head coach Aaron Mauger has made two alterations to his starting line-up for this encounter. One notable change to the starting line-up is the rotation of scrum-halves, with Kayne Hammington earning his first start of the 2018 season, and Aaron Smith moving to the replacements bench.
Mauger noted Hammington’s good form of late and the chance to rotate his nines. The only other change is in the forwards where co-captain Ash Dixon comes into the run-on side as a replacement for Liam Coltman who drops down to the bench. There is one change amongst the replacements with Tyrel Lomax replacing Kalolo Tuiloma as front-row cover.
Form: The Blues ended a three-match winless streak – in which they lost to the Stormers, Sharks and Chiefs – when they claimed a 24-10 victory over the Sunwolves in Tokyo last weekend. Earlier, they kicked off their campaign with a 41-34 defeat to the Highlanders in Dunedin before losing to the Chiefs in Hamilton but claimed their first win in Round Four when they beat the Lions in Johannesburg.
The Highlanders started the season well and won their first three matches at home against the Blues, Stormers and Crusaders. However, they suffered back-to-back losses to the Hurricanes in Wellington and the Chiefs in Hamilton before returning to winning ways when they claimed a convincing win against the Brumbies in Dunedin last weekend.
2018: Highlanders won 41-34 in Dunedin
2017: Highlanders won 26-20 in Dunedin
2017: Highlanders won 16-12 in Auckland
2016: Blues won 33-31 in Auckland
2015: Highlanders won 44-07 in Auckland
2015: Highlanders won 30-24 in Dunedin
2014: Blues won 30-12 in Auckland
2014: Highlanders won 29-21 in Dunedin
2013: Highlanders won 38-28 in Dunedin
2013: Blues won 29-18 in Auckland
Blues: 15 Stephen Perofeta, 14 Jordan Hyland, 13 Orbyn Leger, 12 TJ Faiane, 11 Rieko Ioane, 10 Bryn Gatland, 9 Jonathan Ruru, 8 Akira Ioane, 7 Kara Pryor, 6 Dalton Papalii, 5 Jimmy Tupou, 4 Patrick Tuipulotu, 3 Ofa Tuungafasi/Mike Tamoaieta, 2 James Parsons, 1 Pauliasi Manu
Replacements: 16 Matt Moulds/Leni Apisai, 17 Ross Wright, 18 Mike Tamoaieta/Sione Mafileo, 19 Ben Neenee, 20 Murphy Taramai, 21 Sam Nock, 22 Tumua Manu, 23 Matt Duffie
Highlanders: 15 Ben Smith (cc), 14 Waisake Naholo, 13 Rob Thompson, 12 Teihorangi Walden, 11 Tevita Li, 10 Lima Sopoaga, 9 Kayne Hammington, 8 Luke Whitelock, 7 Dillon Hunt, 6 Shannon Frizell, 5 Tom Franklin, 4 Jackson Hemopo, 3 Siate Tokolahi, 2 Ash Dixon (cc), 1 Daniel Lienert-Brown
Replacements: 16 Liam Coltman, 17 Aki Seiuli, 18 Tyrel Lomax, 19 Alex Ainley, 20 Elliot Dixon, 21 Aaron Smith, 22 Fletcher Smith, 23 Matt Faddes
Date: Friday, April 20
Venue: Eden Park, Auckland
Kick-off: 19:35 local (07:35 GMT)
Referee: Marius van der Westhuizen (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Angus Mabey (New Zealand), Mike Lash (New Zealand)
Television match official: Ben Skeen (New Zealand)