The Blues welcome three All Blacks into their starting line-up to take on the Sharks in their Super Rugby encounter in Durban on Saturday.
Props Ofa Tuungafasi and Karl Tu’inukuafe join midfield back Sonny Bill Williams in the run-on side, following the Blues’ 24-22 loss to defending champions, the Crusaders, at home last weekend.
There’s a double celebration with Melani Nanai, starting a full-back, and number eight Akira Ioane playing in their 50th Super Rugby game for the Blues. Ioane, who also played for the Blues against the British and Irish Lions in 2017, celebrated 50 games for the club last week.
Tu’inukuafe and Tuungafasi make their first start together for the Blues, but both have also paired up with the All Blacks.
The remainder of the pack is the same that started against the Crusaders, including All Blacks Dalton Papalii and captain Patrick Tuipulotu.
Williams starts in his customary inside centre position with the in-form TJ Faiane at outside centre, while Ma’a Nonu is rested after his first game back in Super Rugby after four years last week.
New Zealand U20s winger Caleb Clarke moves to the right wing after a superb pre-season with star All Black Rieko Ioane on the left wing, while the free-running Nanai, impressive against the Crusaders, shifts to full-back.
Another New Zealand U20s player Tanielu Tele’a, a versatile outside back who also impressed in pre-season, is positioned for his debut off the bench.
Coach Leon Macdonald said he is looking for improvements against the Sharks, a dangerous and open-running team. While he was not involved last year, he said many of the team remembers the loss to the South African side at Eden Park last year.
The Sharks have played the Blues 20 times in Super rugby since 1998 and the Sharks have won 15 matches and lost five.
There have been no draws between the teams and the overall average score when these teams meet – regardless of venue is : Sharks 27 Blues 22.
The Sharks 15 matches gives them a record of winning 75% of their matches against the Blues.
This weekend’s match will be played in Durban where the teams have met ten times. In those ten matches the Sharks have won 8 matches and lost two.
The average score when these teams meet in Durban is : Sharks 25 Blues 18.
Average score: Sharks 27 Blues 22
Last five results
Sat, 31 Mar 2018 Sharks v Blues 63-40 Auckland
Sat, 16 Apr 2016 Sharks v Blues 18-23 Auckland
Fri, 23 May 2014 Sharks v Blues 29-23 Albany
Sat, 29 Jun 2013 Sharks v Blues 22-20 Durban
Fri, 13 Apr 2012 Sharks v Blues 29-23 Auckland
Sharks overall record against the Blues
Played 20 , Wins 15 , Losses 5 , Draws 0
Sharks: 15 Aphelele Fassi, 14 Sbu Nkosi, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Andre Esterhuizen, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Robert du Preez, 9 Louis Schreuder (c), 8 Daniel du Preez, 7 Tyler Paul, 6 Jacques Vermeulen, 5 Ruan Botha, 4 Hyron Andrews, 3 Coenie Oosthuizen, 2 Akker van der Merwe, 1 Tendai Mtawarira
Replacements: 16 Kerron van Vuuren, 17 Juan Schoeman, 18 Thomas du Toit, 19 Gideon Koegelenberg, 20 Phepsi Buthelezi, 21 Cameron Wright, 22 Jeremy Ward, 23 Curwin Bosch
Blues: 15 Melani Nanai, 14 Caleb Clarke, 13 TJ Faiane, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 Rieko Ioane, 10 Otere Black, 9 Jonathan Ruru, 8 Akira Ioane, 7 Dalton Papalii, 6 Tom Robinson, 5 Josh Goodhue, 4 Patrick Tuipulotu (c), 3 Ofa Tuungafasi, 2 James Parsons, 1 Karl Tu’inukuafe
Replacements: 16 Matt Moulds, 17 Alex Hodgman, 18 Sione Mafileo, 19 Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, 20 Matt Matich, 21 Augustine Pulu, 22 Harry Plummer, 23 Tanielu Tele’a
Match Officials and details
Date : Saturday 23 February
Venue : Kings Park , Durban
Kick Off local: 15:05
Referee: Paul Williams
Assistant Ref 1:Cwengile Jadezweni
Assistant Ref 2:Griffon Colby
TMO : Marius Jonker