Ma’a Nonu will make highly-anticipated return to the Blues against the team of which he spent most of his Super Rugby career with.
The 36-year-old midfielder has been named to start at centre against the Hurricanes in the two side’s final pre-season hit out at Mangatainoka on Saturday.
Nonu, who is entering his third stint with the Blues after playing for the franchise in 2012 and 2014, played 126 times for the Hurricanes after making his Super 12 debut for them in 2003.
After 10 seasons spread across two stints in Wellington, Nonu spent time at the Blues, Highlanders, Ricoh Black Rams and Toulon before returning to the Auckland-based Blues with an eye on the World Cup later this year.
Nonu played the last of his 103 tests for the All Blacks in the 2015 World Cup final against Australia, and is hopeful of attending a third World Cup after a four-year hiatus in France.
He is by far the most experienced player in the Blues’ line-up for their match this weekend, with two-test All Blacks halfback Augustine Pulu the only other player in the starting side with international experience.
27-test Canadian loose forward Evan Olmstead has been named in the reserves, with current All Blacks Karl Tu’inukuafe, Ofa Tu’ungafasi, Patrick Tuipulotu, Dalton Papali’i, Sonny Bill Williams, Rieko Ioane, and other senior players such as Akira Ioane and Matt Duffie all rested for the match.
The Hurricanes have also named an inexperienced side, with one-test All Blacks Gareth Evans and Jeffery Toomaga-Allen the only internationally capped players in the starting team, while uncapped All Black hooker Asafo Aumua will feature off the pine.
Brothers Matt and Billy Proctor have been named in the midfield, and will be tasked with closing down opposites Nonu and TJ Faiane.
New playmaker Fletcher Smith will also start in Hurricanes colours for the first time since arriving from the Highlanders in the off-season.
He was initially named in the starting XV in last week’s 34-19 defeat to the Crusaders in Levin last week, but instead had to start from the bench.
Both teams open their Super Rugby campaigns next week, with the Blues hosting the Crusaders at Eden Park in Auckland, while the Hurricanes travel to Sydney to face the Waratahs at Brookvale Oval.
Kick-off at Mangatainoka Domain is at 3pm.
Hurricanes: Chase Tiatia, Vince Aso, Matt Proctor, Billy Proctor, Ben Lam, Fletcher Smith, Finlay Christie, Gareth Evans, Du’Plessis Kirifi, Reed Prinsep (c), Liam Mitchell, James Blackwell, Jeff To’omaga-Allen, Ricky Riccitelli, Chris Eves
Reserves: Asafo Aumua, James O’Reilly, Ben May, Alex Fidow, Fraser Armstrong, Isaia Walker-Leawere, Geoff Cridge, Heiden Bedwell-Curtis, Sam Henwood, Teariki Ben-Nicholas, Carlos Price, Jono Hickey, Jackson Garden-Bachop, Danny Toala
Blues: Michael Collins, Melani Nanai, Ma’a Nonu, TJ Faiane, Tanielu Tela’a, Stephen Perofeta, Augustine Pulu, Hoskins Sotutu, Matt Matich, Tom Robinson, Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, Josh Goodhue, Sione Mafileo, Leni Apisai, Alex Hodgman
Reserves: Marcel Renata, Matt Moulds, Mike Tamoaieta, James Tucker, Evan Olmstead, Waimana Riedlinger-Kapa, Adrian Choat, Jack Grooby, Jonathan Ruru, Otere Black, Caleb Clarke, Levi Aumua, Harry Plummer, Tomas Aoake
Rugby World Cup City Guides – Oita:
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