Ali Williams makes a welcome return for the Blues

Flanker Luke Braid has been given the captaincy duties in the absence of Keven Mealamu for this weekend’s match against the Highlanders in Dunedin.

“Luke was selected by his team-mates as the Player of the Year in 2011. He has a lot of respect within the team and that is reflected in his high work-rate and consistent on-field performance. He is a natural leader and we see him as a future captain,” said coach Pat Lam.

A nerve injury to Rudi Wulf’s shoulder sees him join Mealamu on the injury list and some backline shuffling has taken place to cater for this. Hadleigh Parkes moves to fullback, Benson Stanley heads out to the wing and Rene Ranger will play at centre.

Ali Williams returns to the starting line-up. “When you look at the players on the injury list this week as well as having Dan Braid on the bench, we are without a lot of senior players and leaders. We need Ali out there from first whistle this week.”

Winger David Raikuna returns to the 22 after two weeks off with a hamstring problem.

Starting XV:
1. Tony Woodcock
2. Tom McCartney
3. Charlie Faumuina
4. Ali Williams
5. Filo Paulo
6. Chris Lowrey
7. Luke Braid ©
8. Peter Saili
9. Alby Mathewson
10. Gareth Anscombe
11. Benson Stanley
12. Ma’a Nonu
13. Rene Ranger
14. George Moala
15. Hadleigh Parkes

16. James Parsons
17. Tevita Mailau
18. Liaki Moli
19. Dan Braid
20. Piri Weepu
21. Michael Hobbs
22. David Raikuna