Rugby: Blues name team to play Highlanders

Blues coach Tana Umaga. Photo: Getty Images
Blues coach Tana Umaga. Photo: Getty Images
Tana Umaga has named All Blacks Charlie Faumuina and Rene Ranger, plus New Zealand sevens star Akira Ioane, on the reserves bench for his team's opening match against the Highlanders at Eden Park on Friday.

In what must be considered a surprising selection, tighthead prop Sione Mafileo starts ahead of Faumuina, with Male Sa'u, who has returned from Japanese club rugby, named at centre instead of former All Black Ranger, who is just back from France and has ambitions of returning to the national team.

Steven Luatua has been named at No 8, instead of Ioane, who didn't play last week's pre-season match against the Chiefs due to a hamstring. In Jerome Kaino's absence due to suspension, Joe Edwards will wear the No 6 jersey with Blake Gibson at openside flanker.

Hooker James Parsons will captain the team.

Patrick Tuipulotu, who saw his World Cup dream wrecked by the need to have hip surgery last year, makes a welcome return to lock.

The Blues team to play the Highlanders:
Lolagi Visinia, Melani Nanai, Male Sa'u, George Moala, Tevita Li, Ihaia West, Bryn Hall, Steven Luatua, Blake Gibson, Joe Edwards, Josh Edwards, Patrick Tuipulotu, Sione Mafileo, James Parsons (c), Ofa Tu'ungafasi.

Reserves: Quentin MacDonald, Namatahi Waa, Charlie Faumuina, Akira Ioane, Kara Pryor, Billy Guyton, Matt McGahan, Rene Ranger.

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