Inspirational Blues and All Blacks hooker Keven Mealamu will establish a new Super Rugby record in Saturday clash with the Lions in Albany.
Mealamu has been named in the Auckland-based franchise's starting line-up which will be his 163rd appearance in Super Rugby. This will make him the all-time leader in Super Rugby, a mark he currently shares with retired former Reds, Force and Wallabies lock Nathan Sharpe.
It is the first game of the season for Mealamu who made his debut in 2000.
“Congratulations on becoming the most experienced player in Super Rugby history,” said SANZAR Chief Executive, Greg Peters.
“You possess one of the most decorated CVs in world rugby, which is a thoroughly deserved product of your hard work, dedication and an unwavering desire to continue raising both your own standards, and those of others around you.
“As a player with vast experience from club to Test level, you are a role model that has inspired a generation of young players and we can count ourselves lucky as they come through the ranks using your career and principles as inspiration.”
Mealamu has been named alongside fellow All Black Charlie Faumuina and Ofa Tu’ungafasi, who gets his first start of the season.
Steven Luatua is back to his regular starting spot in the loose forwards with captain Jerome Kaino and Luke Braid.
Last year’s Blues Development player of the year, winger Melani Nanai, has earned a second start after a useful debut in South Africa as a replacement, to be joined by Frank Halai, who makes his first appearance of the season following rehabilitation from an off-season shoulder operation.
All Black Charles Piutau remains at outside centre and is paired in the midfield with Francis Saili.
Blues: 15 Lolagi Visinia, 14 Frank Halai, 13 Charles Piutau, 12 Francis Saili, 11 Melani Nanai, 10 Ihaia West, 9 Jimmy Cowan, 8 Jerome Kaino, 7 Luke Braid, 6 Steven Luatua, 5 Patrick Tuipulotu, 4 Josh Bekhuis, 3 Charlie Faumuina, 2 Keven Mealamu, 1 Ofa Tu'ungafasi.
Replacements: 16 James Parsons, 17 Sam Prattley, 18 Angus Ta'avao, 19 Hayden Triggs, 20 Brendon O'Connor, 21 Jamison Gibson-Park, 22 Simon Hickey, 23 Hamish Northcott.
Date: Saturday, March 7
Venue: North Harbour Stadium, Albany
Kick-off: 19.35 local (06.35 GMT, 17.35 AEDT, 08.35 SAST)
Referee: Matt O'Brien
Assistant referees: Ben O'Keeffe, Brendon Pickerill
TMO: Glen Newman