Blues Super Rugby captain Luke Braid has been ruled out with injury in the only change to their starting team to play Queensland on Friday in Auckland.
Braid’s blow to the shoulder, suffered late in the 21-13 win over the NSW Waratahs last weekend, has handed Brendon O’Connor his second start of the season on the openside flank.
Veteran All Blacks hooker Keven Mealamu will be captain for the game that pits the ninth-placed Blues against a 13th-placed Reds team who have lost their past three games, including a 35-21 loss to the Hurricanes last weekend.
Braid has played in every match this season and will be a key loss, coach Sir John Kirwan says.
“Luke’s been playing well for us and is totally committed but Brendon is an outstanding replacement for him.
“He’s a very good player in his own right so it’s a really good opportunity for him.”
O’Connor’s only other start this year was in the 26-9 loss to the Brumbies in Canberra four weeks ago, when he was replaced by Braid.
There is also a positional change in the loose forwards, where in-form blindside flanker Jerome Kaino moves to No.8 in a straight swap with Peter Saili.
Kirwan says both players are similar and function well in either role.
“They’re both physical and strong ball carriers. We did the same switch at halftime last week and it frees Pete up to roam around a bit more.”
On the reserves bench, prop Ofa Tu’ungafasi replaces the injured Sam Prattley while outside back utility George Moala usurps Pita Ahki.
The Blues have won all four of their games at Eden Park this season but will face a Reds side who have claimed the teams’ last four meetings.
The visitors will also chase victory to celebrate the 100th Super Rugby appearance of their Wallabies five-eighth Quade Cooper.
Charles Piutau, Frank Halai, Francis Saili, Ma’a Nonu, Lolagi Visinia, Simon Hickey, Bryn Hall, Jerome Kaino, Brendon O’Connor, Peter Saili, Tom Donnelly, Patrick Tuipulotu, Charlie Faumuina, Keven Mealamu (capt), Tony Woodcock. Res: James Parsons, Sam Prattley, Angus Ta’avao, Hayden Triggs, Piri Weepu, Steven Luatua, Ihaia West, Pita Ahki.