WIDER TRAINING Group lock / loose forward Steven Luatua will make his run-on debut for the Blues when they face the Crusaders in Christchurch on Saturday night (kick-off 7.35pm).
21-year-old Luatua, who became a fulltime member of the Blues squad following injuries to Jerome Kaino, Brad Mika and Chris Lowrey, came off the bench last week against the Lions, but is relishing the opportunity of making his first start against the Crusaders on Saturday.
“When they named the team I was in awe and just thought ‘what have I gotten myself into?’” Luatua quipped. “But I was thinking about it last night and I’m really excited about the challenge. Playing the Crusaders in Christchurch, what better stage to make your starting debut on so I just want to go out there and do the jersey proud.”
Luatua will start at blindside flanker as Luke Braid switches to number 8 in one of just two changes to the starting XV.
“Steven showed a lot of composure in a short amount of time when he came on last week and demonstrated his ability so it’s a great opportunity for a young guy to get out there and make the most of it,” Blues head coach Pat Lam said.
In the only other change, Tevita Mailau slots into tighthead prop in place of Charlie Faumuina who suffered a grade two calf tear just days before being named in the 35-man All Blacks training squad.
For just the second time this season, Lam has been afforded the luxury of naming an unchanged backline.
10 players in the Blues 22 for Saturday night’s clash were not in the 22 when the two teams played each other in the opening round of the season, with nine now out injured – Jerome Kaino, Charlie Faumuina, Keven Mealamu, Chris Lowrey, Anthony Boric, Brad Mika, Isaia Toeava, Rene Ranger and Rudi Wulf.
However there are two All Blacks who did not face the Crusaders in round one who line up for the New Zealand derby in Tony Woodcock and Ma’a Nonu who will add some much needed experience and direction to a relatively young side.
Lam said he was expecting a fierce challenge from the fired-up Crusaders.
“It’s certainly going to be a dogfight down there,” he said. “There’s going to be a full crowd I hear and they’re hurting, we’re hurting but at the end of the day it’s a Blues v Crusaders game and there will be plenty of feeling like there always is. It’s a great opportunity for us to try and back up from last week.”
15. Hadleigh Parkes*, 14. David Raikuna, 13. Ma’a Nonu, 12. Michael Hobbs, 11. Benson Stanley, 10. Gareth Anscombe, 9. Piri Weepu, 1. Tony Woodcock, 2. Tom McCartney, 3. Tevita Mailau, 4. Liaki Moli, 5. Ali Williams, 6. Steven Luatua*, 7. Daniel Braid, 8. Luke Braid ©
16. James Parsons*, 17. Angus Ta’avao, 18. Filo Paulo, 19. Peter Saili, 20. Alby Mathewson, 21. Lachie Munro, 22. Sherwin Stowers
* WTG = Wider Training Group