Blues centurion and World Cup hero Tony Woodcock returns to Super Rugby for the first time in eight months for Saturday’s opening round of the 2015 season against the Chiefs at North Harbour’s QBE Stadium.
Woodcock, who has played 110 times for the All Blacks, will earn his 140th cap for the Blues as he starts at loosehead prop.
The Blues will be led by new captain Jerome Kaino, with the All Black loose forward to play his first match since the winning northern tour late last year.
He will be joined by fellow All Blacks James Parsons and Charles Piutau in the starting line-up, while prop Charlie Faumuina will come off the bench.
Former All Black scrum-half Jimmy Cowan will earn his 124th Super Rugby cap, but his first for the Blues since returning to New Zealand rugby following two years in English rugby with Gloucester. He forms a new partnership with Maori All Black fly-half Ihaia West.
There’s a strong look to the Blues pack with star loose forward Steven Luatua in outstanding form in pre-season and forming a powerful back-row combination with Kaino and new Leicester Tigers recruit Brendon O’Connor.
Players of interest coming off the bench include the 2014 captain Luke Braid, coming back from double shoulder reconstruction, and the exciting teenager Akira Ioane, signed this week by the Blues.
Blues: 15 Lolagi Visinia, 14 Charles Piutau, 13 George Moala/Hamish Northcot, 12 Francis Saili, 11 Tevita Li, 10 Ihaia West, 9 Jimmy Cowan, 8 Jerome Kaino (c), 7 Brendon O'Connor, 6 Steven Luatua, 5 Hayden Triggs, 4 Josh Bekhuis, 3 Angus Ta’avao, 2 James Parsons, 1 Tony Woodcock
Replacements: 16 Matt Moulds, 17 Ofa Tu’ungafasi, 18 Charlie Faumuina, 19 Akira Ioane, 20 Luke Braid, 21 Jamison Gibson-Park, 22 Simon Hickey, 23 Hamish Northcott/Ben Lam
Date: Saturday, February 14
Venue: QBE Stadium, Albany
Kickoff: 19:35 local (06:35 GMT)
Referee: Chris Pollock
Assistant Referees: Ben O'Keeffe, Kane McBride
TMO: Ben Skeen