The playmaking star has been retained in his preferred position by head coach Leon MacDonald as the Auckland franchise head to Forsyth Barr Stadium with the aim of keeping their title hopes alive.
The former All Blacks great has again been left out of the match day side as he continues to recover from a calf niggle that robbed him of his maiden appearance for the Blues in their 29-27 defeat to the Hurricanes a fortnight ago.
In total, MacDonald has made just one change to his starting side from the team that dispatched the Chiefs 21-17 at Eden Park last week.
13-test All Blacks prop Karl Tu’inukuafe makes his first start for the Blues in nearly five months after recovering from an ankle injury, taking the place of the in-form Alex Hodgman.
The ex-Crusaders front rower, who new Fiji boss Vern Cotter revealed was on the radar of the Pacific Island nation in an interview with the New Zealand Herald earlier this week, has instead been demoted to an otherwise unchanged bench.
There will be no shortage of motivation for the Blues leading into this weekend’s fixture, as they aim to snatch the Gordon Hunter Memorial Trophy out of the Highlanders’ grasp for the first time since 2012.
Highlanders assistant coach Tony Brown and co-captain Ash Dixon were both vocal about the significance of the trophy earlier in the week, and it’s a unique aspect of the match that isn’t lost on MacDonald either.
“Gordon was a special man who held a special place for both the Blues and the Highlanders, something we are well aware of,” MacDonald said in a statement.
“We would like nothing more than to take the trophy back to Auckland with us.
“We know that we will need to be at our best to achieve that. Every time we play the Highlanders it is a close affair, as are all the games in this competition.
“We have worked hard again this week and focussed on being more accurate and disciplined at the breakdown but at the same time we want to continue to be physical in the collisions.
“We have to get the job done upfront and give our backs the time and space to show their skills, be both patient as well as capitalise on our chances.”
Blues team to play Highlanders: 15. Matt Duffie, 14. Mark Telea, 13. Rieko Ioane, 12. TJ Faiane, 11. Caleb Clarke, 10. Beauden Barrett, 9. Finlay Christie, 8. Akira Ioane, 7. Blake Gibson, 6. Dalton Papalii, 5. Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, 4. Patrick Tuipulotu ©, 3. Ofa Tuungafasi, 2. Kurt Eklund, 1. Karl Tu’inukuafe
Sign up to our mailing list for a weekly digest from the wide world of rugby.Sign Up Now