Beauden Barrett will make his debut for the Blues at fullback against his former side on Sunday.
Photo: Andrew Cornaga/Photosport
Blues coach Leon MacDonald said selecting his side for the opening game of Super Rugby Aotearoa against the Hurricanes was the hardest selection decision he had made in his time with the Blues.
Otere Black retains the first five-eigth spot after impressing MacDonald earlier in the season.
“His form was outstanding pre-lockdown and he’s come back out of lockdown in even better nick and he’s trained really well,” MacDonald said.
“We’re pretty fortunate really to have two pretty decent 10s in the squad. Beaudy is an outstanding first-five that is not lost on us, but he is also a world class fullback as well at the moment and we need that hole filled.
“It’s his first game for the Blues in front of a big crowd against his home team and I don’t think it will hurt for him to just be back in the boot a little bit with his vision and his experience to help be a calming influence at the back and in time move up to the front line as well.”
Who to put in the playmaker jersey was not MacDonald’s only selection dilemma for Sunday’s game at Eden Park.
The loose forward trio was one of the most competitive selections with Tom Robinson, Blake Gibson and early season standout Hoskins Sotutu given the start, meaning All Black Dalton Papalii will come off the bench.
Upfront prop Alex Hodgman and lock Josh Goodhue are both fully fit and return to the starting pack that includes All Blacks Ofa Tu’ungafasi and captain Patrick Tuipulotu with James Parsons at hooker.
In the backline Tj Faiane and All Black Reiko Ioane are back together in the midfield and Caleb Clarke returns from the New Zealand Sevens to slot in on the left wing to form a potent back three with Mark Telea and Barrett.
Despite all the talent, Ioane would not be drawn on whether the Auckland side had the best backline in the competition.
As expected new Blues signing Dan Carter is not in the game-day 23 as he works towards match fitness.
“Our good form from earlier in this year is a bit irrelevant now,” MacDonald
“This is going to be a monumental 10 weeks of local derby battles which will be a battle of attrition, so we will need our whole squad if we are to realise our goals.”
A potential full-house is expected to be reached ahead of Sunday afternoon’s game.
The Blues squad to face the Hurricanes:
1 Alex Hodgman
2 James Parsons
3 Ofa Tuungafasi
4 Patrick Tuipulotu (c)
5 Josh Goodhue
6 Tom Robinson
7 Blake Gibson
8 Hoskins Sotutu
9 Sam Nock
10 Otere Black
11 Caleb Clarke
12 Tj Faiane
13 Reiko Ioane
14 Mark Telea
15 Beauden Barrett
16 Kurt Eklund
17 Ezekiel Lindenmuth
18 Marcel Renata
19 Gerard Cowley-Tuioti
20 Dalton Papalii
21 Finlay Christie
22 Harry Plummer
23 Matt Duffie