Chris Noakes' steady influence has been preferred to Benji Marshall's unpredictable flamboyance for the Blues' Super Rugby opener against the Highlanders in Dunedin on Saturday night.
While Marshall's high-profile code switch remains in the tentative stages, he hasn't done enough in three pre-season starts at first five-eighths, and 15 minutes at fullback last week, to demand a starting role just yet.
Blues coach Sir John Kirwan indicated Marshall is likely to come on at fullback.
"I wouldn't put him on the bench if I didn't think he could add to the football team," Kirwan said today. "I think 15 will be more natural for him. There's less risk back there. I'm confident he's ready to go but not start and run the football team."
Noakes played 12 games for the Blues last year, starting well outside Piri Weepu through the early stages before losing his way along with the overall team performance as they suffered six losses to end the season.
The former Highlanders pivot has also recovered from off-season neck surgery to secure the No10 jersey.
After being injured - and scoring two tries - in the final trial match against the Chiefs in Rotorua last week, All Blacks utility Charles Piutau seems to have allayed fears of a knee problem to take his place at fullback, though he did not train today.
"We're pretty confident Charles will be okay but if he's not Albert Nikoro will start," Kirwan said.
With Ma'a Nonu not being considered till round three, there will be interest in the midfield combination of Waikato's Jackson Willison and All Blacks second five Francis Saili.
George Moala, who impressed Kirwan at centre during the pre-season, has been named to start back on his preferred left wing.
The Highlanders are sure to target a Blues pack still missing All Blacks front-rowers Tony Woodcock and Keven Mealamu, who are both being rested this week.
Ofa Tu'ungafasi, in his first start for the franchise, and James Parsons get the chance to stake early claims at loose-head prop and hooker, respectively.
"He's had an incredible off-season. He's lost 10kgs," Kirwan said of Tu'ungafasi. "He's fitter and stronger than he was last year. He's earned the right to start."
Tom Donnelly, as expected, will start as the senior second-row figure against his old franchise.
Taking over the captaincy from Ali Williams, flanker Luke Braid will be keen to ensure his men start their campaign on the right note after three straight defeats in the pre-season.
Blues: Charles Piutau, Frank Halai, Jackson Willison Francis Saili, George Moala, Chris Noakes, Piri Weepu; Peter Saili, Luke Braid (c), Steven Luatua, Tom Donnelly, Liaki Moli, Charlie Faumuina, James Parsons, Ofa Tu'ungafasi,. Reserves: Tom McCartney, Sam Prattley, Angus Ta'avao Patrick Tuipulotu, Brendon O'Connor, Bryn Hall, Benji Marshall, Tevita Li.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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