The Blues return to Eden Park for a demanding clash against the touring Lions side from South Africa at the one-off afternoon start of 4.25pm on Saturday.

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While the Blues have won four games away from home in the Investec Super Rugby, both losses have come at home and they are looking to put in a strong performance at Eden Park.

The Blues are under no illusion that the Johannesburg-based Lions, who were Championship runners-up for three straight years from 2016 to 2018, will pose a much tougher test than their 1-4 record to start the season.

“The calibre and history of their side suggests that they are going to be a tough challenge, as they have been every time we play them,” said coach Leon MacDonald.

“Teams often galvanize for the first game back from South Africa as we did last week against the Hurricanes and the following week is a challenge.

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“We adjusted our trainings accordingly and we will need to produce a performance of quality, aggression and accuracy of we hope to get a positive result.

“Both sides have a history of playing attractive and open running rugby and I am sure we will both enjoy the rare opportunity to play in the later afternoon. It’s a fantastic chance for families to come along and enjoy what should be a terrific match.”

With captain Patrick Tuipulotu to sit out his All Black rest, along with Ofa Tu’ungafasi, 46-game veteran Gerard Cowley-Tuioti gets his first start of the season after coming off the bench in his first game back from an injury in the Mitre-10 Cup.

There’s a strong look to the pack with in-form Karl Tu’inukuafe joining 110-cap hooker James Parsons and Sione Mafileo, playing his 49th time for the Blues, forming the front row, while All Black Dalton Papalii returns from his break to join Blake Gibson and Hoskins Sotutu in the loose forwards.

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The backline is virtually unchanged with Matt Duffie, like his North Harbour mate Mafileo, playing his 49th game to give Joe Marchant his first spell of the season with TJ Faiane to take over the captaincy.

There is plenty of impact to come off the bench – including Akira Ioane, who covers all three loose forward spots and impressed against the Hurricanes last week.

Southland replacement prop Joe Walsh is set to earn his debut for the Blues off the bench along with hooker Luteru Tolai, who made an excellent job as replacement in the win over the stormers in South Africa.

Blues: 15 Stephen Perofeta, 14 Matt Duffie, 13 Rieko Ioane, 12 TJ Faiane ©, 11 Mark Telea, 10 Otere Black, 9 Sam Nock; 8 Hoskins Sotutu, 7 Blake Gibson, 6 Dalton Papalii, 5 Jacob Pierce, 4 Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, 3 Sione Mafileo, 2 James Parsons, 1 Karl Tu’inukuafe.

Reserves: 16 Luteru Tolai, 17 Joe Walsh, 18 Marcel Renata, 19 Aaron Carroll/Sam Caird, 20 Akira Ioane, 21 Jonathan Ruru, 22 Harry Plummer, 23 Emoni Narawa.

Players not considered with injury: Tanielu Telea (shoulder – season), James Tucker (ACL – season), Ray Niuia (knee – season), Josh Goodhue (ankle), Alex Hodgman (calf).

– Blues Rugby

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