All Blacks captain Sam Cane will make his return from a month-long concussion-enforced sideline spell with Bay of Plenty in their opening Mitre 10 Cup clash against Taranaki on Sunday.
The 28-year-old has been out of action since he left the field with a head knock during the Chiefs’ 31-18 Super Rugby Aotearoa defeat at the hands of the Hurricanes in August.
After being named in Ian Foster’s first All Blacks squad of the year last weekend, Cane will make his first appearance since leaving the field at Sky Stadium in Wellington five weeks ago, albeit from a slightly less familiar position.
Set for his first outing in the blue and yellow hoops since 2016, Cane makes up one third of a Super Rugby Aotearoa loose forward trio that also features Chiefs openside flanker Mitch Karpik and Blues blindside Aaron Carroll.
They will be complemented by a strong tight five made up of skipper Aidan Ross, Nathan Vella, Jeff Thwaites, Kane Le’aupepe and Keepa Mewett, all of whom have varying degrees of Super Rugby experience.
Among the most eye-catching names in the backline is three-test All Blacks halfback Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, who will make his Bay of Plenty debut against his former province after joining the Steamers from Taranaki this season.
He will partner former Highlanders playmaker Dan Hollinshead in the halves, with the duo expected to unleash a promising quintet of players outside them.
Electric Hurricanes utility back Chase Tiatia, last year’s Duane Monkley Medal winner, will start at second five, forming a midfield combination with Mathew Skipwith-Garland.
The outside backs are comprised of long-serving Mitre 10 Cup stalwart Fa’asiu Fuatai, All Blacks Sevens veteran Joe Webber and young Blues fullback Emoni Narawa.
A notable omission from the starting side is new first five recruit Otere Black, who has signed with Bay of Plenty from Manawatu for the upcoming campaign, but will make his Steamers debut from the bench this weekend.
He joins fellow Blues standout Kurt Eklund in the reserves alongside Tongan international Zane Kapeli, youthful Hurricanes prop Tevita Mafileo and All Blacks Sevens star Regan Ware.
Bay of Plenty Steamers team to face Taranaki:
1. Aidan Ross (c), 2. Nathan Vella, 3. Jeff Thwaites, 4. Kane Le’aupepe, 5. Keepa Mewett, 6. Aaron Carroll, 7. Mitch Karpik, 8. Sam Cane, 9. Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, 10. Dan Hollinshead, 11. Fa’asiu Fuatai, 12. Chase Tiatia, 13. Mathew Skipwith-Garland, 14. Joe Webber, 15. Emoni Narawa.
Reserves: 16. Kurt Eklund, 17. Haereiti Hetet, 18. Tevita Mafileo, 19. Zane Kapeli, 20. Joe Tupe, 21. Luke Campbell, 22. Otere Black, 23. Regan Ware.
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