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Nanai returns to fold as Blues settle lineup for Crusaders clash

The Blues have a more settled and experienced look to the teamsheet as they prepare to take on the Crusaders at Eden Park on Saturday night.

Pauliasi Manu is reunited in the front row with James Parsons and Ofa Tu’ungafasi, with the trio sporting 213 Super Rugby caps between them.

There is a change in the second row with Counties Manukau replacement lock Matiaha Martin selected for his debut, coming in for injured All Black Patrick Tuipulotu, to join Gerard Cowley-Tuioti. Fellow locks Scott Scrafton and Jimmy Tupou are out with season-ending injuries.

There is a potent loose forward trio with Akira Ioane, Dalton Papalii (bracketed with Murphy Taramai) and Jerome Kaino, who plays his 135th game for the Blues, closing in on the 137 caps achieved by Tony Woodcock, who sits second on the all-time list behind Keven Mealamu.

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Melani Nanai, who missed five games with injury, comes back into the starting line-up on the right wing allowing Rieko Ioane to play on his preferred left wing, with the in-form Orbyn Leger again pairing with Sonny Bill Williams in midfield. Captain Augustine Pulu starts at halfback inside Stephen Perofeta.

Michael Collins returns after missing four games through injury, listed on the bench that includes Northland captain Matt Moulds, who will earn his 20th and blazer game should he get on.

Coach Tana Umaga said he was pleased to welcome some of his experienced players back into the team, noting that Caleb Clarke has not been selected after receiving a slight knock in last week’s game.

He leaves the team on Sunday to join the New Zealand Under-20 squad before they fly out next week for the Rugby World Championship in France.

Umaga said that Martin had impressed since coming in as a replacement and earned his start.

BLUES

15. Matt Duffie, 14. Melani Nanai, 13. Orbyn Leger, 12. Sonny Bill Williams, 11. Rieko Ioane, 10. Stephen Perofeta, 9. Augustine Pulu (C), 8. Akira Ioane, 7. Dalton Papalii or Murphy Taramai, 6. Jerome Kaino, 5. Matiaha Martin, 4. Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, 3. Ofa Tuungafasi, 2. James Parsons, 1. Pauliasi Manu.
Reserves: 16. Matt Moulds, 17. Ross Wright, 18. Sione Mafileo, 19. Ben Nee-Nee, 20. Murphy Taramai or Antonio Kiri Kiri, 21. Jonathan Ruru, 22. Dan Kirkpatrick, 23 Michael Collins.

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Nanai returns to fold as Blues settle lineup for Crusaders clash | RugbyPass