An illness has stopped in-form Taranaki flanker Kane Barrett from starting in tomorrow's National Provincial Championship opening round match away to Bay Of Plenty.
Barrett fell ill on the eve of last week's final preseason match against Counties-Manukau and only made it back to team training yesterday.
While he will still be used from the bench at Mount Maunganui, his spot has been taken by former All Black Jarrad Hoeata, which means a start for Blade Thomson at No 8.
Thomson, a member of the Hurricanes wider training group, got through 25 minutes against Counties-Manukau, his first hit-out after several months on the sideline with a back injury.
His contribution was more than satisfactory and impressive, considering he had been off the field for so long.
"Kane was due to start and deserved a start but because he has been crook, and is still not 100 per cent, we couldn't," Taranaki coach Colin Cooper said. "He will be better come Saturday but Blade is a natural player and it was great to see him get through almost half an hour last week."
Thomson's inclusion was one of several talking points in the Tenderlink Taranaki squad, with Cooper opting to start hooker Timo Tutavaha alongside the experienced Chris King, who will make his debut for his new province.
Elsewhere in the pack, Chris Walker edges out former All Black Scott Waldrom, who only arrived at training this week.
Cooper also revealed an exciting backline, with regular fullback Kurt Baker shifted to centre to allow outstanding Hurricanes player Andre Taylor to wear the No 15 jersey.
"We're happy enough from what we've seen of him there and we'll just have to see how that develops," Cooper said.
"It's probably one of the hardest positions to defend, so that's where he will have to work because we're not worried about how he can attack. If things don't work out then we've got Willie [Rickards] on the bench."
Young halfback Jamison Gibson-Park will make his NPC debut inside Beauden Barrett, while Waisake Naholo and Frazier Climo are rewarded for their good preseason form.
Several bench players should see some good game time, including Waldrom, Kane Barrett and James Marshall.
Bay of Plenty coach Kevin Schuler has resisted the temptation to start Tanerau Latimer alongside Luke Braid, the former only joining the Steamers camp this week after his successful Chiefs campaign.
There is talk All Blacks squad member Sam Cane will come on to the bench after being released by the national selectors, although Schuler has not named him.
The Steamers look to have an equally exciting backline with the likes of Lelia Masaga, Phil Burleigh, Chris Noakes and captain Jamie Nutbrown.
BAY OF PLENTY: Kendrick Lynn, Lelia Masaga, Mafi Kefu, Phil Burleigh, Jack Wilson, Chris Noakes, Jamie Nutbrown (captain), Carl Axtens, Luke Braid, Warren Lippi-Smith, Leon Power, Culum Retallick, Tristan Moran, Dan Perrin, Greg Pleasants-Tate. Reserves, John Paraenga, Mike Kainga, Keepa Mewett, Tanerau Latimer, Lewis Hancock, Nick McCashin, Lance MacDonald.
TARANAKI: Andre Taylor, Waisake Naholo, Kurt Baker, Jayden Hayward, Frazier Climo, Beauden Barrett, Jamison Gibson-Park, Blade Thomson, Chris Walker, Jarrad Hoeata, Jason Eaton (captain), James Broadhurst, Michael Bent, Timo Tutavaha, Chris King. Reserves, Sione Lea, Carl Carmichael, Kane Barrett, Scott Waldrom, Kylem O'Donnell, James Marshall, Willie Rickards.
- © Fairfax NZ News