Auckland rookie centre Malakai Fekitoa has been asked to step up a division with Blues coach Sir John Kirwan naming him in his Super Rugby squad today.
The 20-year-old had an impressive debut season with the Auckland side, his midfield thrust helping them to make the Premiership final.
Having lost All Blacks midfield back Ma'a Nonu to the Highlanders, Kirwan has gone for Fekitoa to help bolster this crucial area.
Kirwan, as, expected, has also picked up Chiefs journeyman Jackson Willison in the draft
Willison has 37 caps with the Chiefs since 2009 and has proven effective midfield cover for their frequent injury problems.
There is no room in the 32-man squad for Auckland captain and Blues stalwart Daniel Braid.
The former All Blacks flanker has fallen out of favour and it seems likely he will chase an overseas contract rather than rely on a place amongst the five players still to be named in the wider training group.
The Blues have four players in the All Blacks mix for the end of year tour - Charlie Faumuina, Keven Mealamu, Piri Weepu and Ali Williams.
Overall, it's a young looking Blues squad though there are still many familiar faces.
They include All Blacks lock Anthony Boric who was named despite missing most of the 2012 campaign with a neck injury.
With vastly experienced prop Tony Woodcock another departure to the Highlanders, the Blues have lured Tasman looshead Tim Perry north, though their propping stocks are decidedly light on experience.
Ronald Raaymakers has benefitted from the exposure he gained in helping Counties Manukau win the Championship title. The young forward gets a berth in the Blues squad where he can cover lock and flanker.
The Blues have also picked up a useful addition in Culum Retallick, the Bay of Plenty lock who has Super Rugby experience with the Chiefs and Highlanders.
Kirwan faces a big challenge in his first year in charge. The Blues are clearly in rebuilding mode.
But the pressure will be on Kirwan after Mark Hammett (Hurricanes), Jamie Joseph (Highlanders) and Dave Rennie (Chiefs) produced respectability in recent seasons taking similar approaches.
"We have several young and exciting players joining our mix. Pairing them up with our senior players and those who have a few Super Rugby campaigns under their belt, makes for an exciting combination," Kirwan said.
"We had specific criteria that players had to meet. About their existing skill set - what they bring to us now as well as how we can develop it; the character of each player and their desire to be part of this franchise and finally the sum of all parts - how we see this team gelling together as well as pushing each other to exceed expectations."
Backs: Outside backs: Frank Halai, Waisake Naholo, Charles Piutau, Rene Ranger, Marty McKenzie. Centres: Malakai Fekitoa, George Moala, Francis Saili, Jackson Willison. First-fives: Baden Kerr, Chris Noakes. Halfbacks: Bryn Hall, Piri Weepu, Jamison Gibson-Park.
Forwards: Flankers: Kane Barrett, Luke Braid, Steven Luatua, Brendon O'Connor, Ronald Raaymakers, Peter Saili. Locks: Anthony Boric, Liaki Moli, Culum Retallick, Ali Williams. Props: Charlie Faumuina, Tom McCartney, Tim Perry, Angus Ta'avao, Ofa Tu'ungafasi. Hookers: Keven Mealamu, Quentin MacDonald, James Parsons.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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