Braid back for Blues

21st May 2014, 07:18

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Welcome return: Luke Braid

Welcome return: Luke Braid

Luke Braid returns from injury to captain the Blues against the Sharks at North Harbour Stadium on Friday.

Luke Braid returns from injury to captain the Blues against the Sharks at North Harbour Stadium on Friday.

The openside flanker missed the last two games against the Chiefs and Reds with a shoulder injury, but after another week off with the bye Braid is back to full fitness and raring to go.

"It was really important to make sure we gave Luke time to recover from his shoulder," Blues head coach Sir John Kirwan said.

"He's our leader and has been playing out of his skin for us so I think it's really good that he's back and he will give us good direction and leadership."

Braid's inclusion ahead of Brendon O'Connor is the only change to the forward pack, while Charles Piutau's knee injury has forced a reshuffle to the backline with Lolagi Visinia moving from full-back to wing and New Zealand Under 20 player Tevita Ling starting on the left flank.

Pita Ahki will start at centre in place of injured players Francis Saili and Jackson Willison.

"Pita is one of our young guys we've been working hard with," Kirwan said.

"He's young but with the form of Lolagi it was an easy decision to put him to fullback for Charles who is out, and it puts Tevita back onto the wing who was strong for us early. With Pita coming into centre it's a young crew but full of talent, ability and excitement."

Kirwan said Visinia, who has started the last four games and scored three tries, was beginning to deliver on his exciting promise after sorting out his preparation off the field.

"Super Rugby is a different level and you've just got to not expose these guys too early. You've got to bring them into it and when they're ready they'll explode and I think that's what Lolagi has done.

"The good thing about Lolagi is he's got his off-field preparation right. What a lot of these younger guys don't realise is that it's about preparing every week and making sure you do that right and the game takes care of itself.

"That's where Lolagi has been so strong, he's worked really hard this year off the field. We know he's got the ability and he's like a lot of our other guys - they've got the ability but they've actually got to prepare to play and that's been the most rewarding thing for Lolagi."

Scrum-half Jamison Gibson-Park comes onto the bench in place of Piri Weepu who injured his groin playing club rugby in Wellington last week, while outside back Albert Nikoro is named in the squad for the first time this season.

Friday's match against the Sharks is must-win for the Blues if they are to keep their hopes of making the playoffs alive, and Kirwan said he was expecting a huge tussle.

"We all know [Sharks coach] Jake White very well and he plays a great brand of football as far as strangling the opposition goes and really making you work hard for every yard so we're expecting that.

"You also couple that with eight or nine Springboks in the side so they're not at the top of the conference for no reason. I think last week was a pretty awesome effort against the Crusaders, they'd be proud of that so we're going to have to be on top of our game."

Blues: 15 Lolagi Visinia, 14 Frank Halai, 13 Pita Ahki, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Tevita Li, 10 Simon Hickey, 9 Bryn Hall, 8 Jerome Kaino, 7 Luke Braid (c), 6 Peter Saili, 5 Tom Donnelly, 4 Patrick Tuipulotu, 3 Charlie Faumuina, 2 Keven Mealamu, 1 Tony Woodcock.
Replacement: 16 James Parsons, 17 Sam Prattley, 18 Angus Ta'avao, 19 Hayden Triggs, 20 Steven Luatua, 21 Jamison Gibson-Park, 22 Ihaia West, 23 Albert Nikoro.

Date: Friday, 23 May
Venue: North Harbour Stadium, Auckland
Kick-off: 19.35 local (09.35GMT)
Referee: Nick Briant (New Zealand)