Auckland - Blues coach Tana Umaga has named his team for their Super Rugby clash against the Sharks at Eden Park on Saturday (kick-off 09:35 SA time).
There are only two changes from the side that lost narrowly to the Chiefs last weekend.
Lolagi Visinia returns from injury to regain his place at fullback, with his kicking game considered important for this match, despite his replacement Melani Nanai starring with a superb solo try.
The major loss is last year’s New Zealand Under-20 star Blake Gibson, who will be sidelined for much of the Super Rugby season after injuring his thumb in training this week.
According to the Blues' official website, scans revealed a fracture that may require surgery and will rule the stand-out flank out of action until after the June international window.
His replacement will be a first for the Blues with Super Rugby centurion Tanerau Latimer bracketed at loose forward with Northland’s Kara Pryor.
If selected, Latimer will make his debut for the Blues after being sidelined with a long-term calf injury while it would be a first start for Pryor, who has four Blues caps this year off the bench.
The Blues will make a final decision on Friday after checking how Latimer comes through Thursday’s sessions, after training fully with the team since last week.
Counties Manukau back Piers Francis will again start outside Ihaia West in the midfield, with scans clearing him of any neck and spinal injury concerns after he was stretchered off early in the game against the Chiefs as a precautionary measure.
The team will wear black armbands in recognition of the passing of former Blues lock Kurtis Haiu with a moment’s silence before the start of the game.
The game is also the anniversary of the original Super 12 final in 1996 when the Auckland Blues beat the Natal Sharks, with a number of players attending and Joeli Vidiri to deliver the match ball on to the field.
15 Lolagi Visinia, 14 Rieko Ioane, 13 Rene Ranger, 12 Piers Francis, 11 Tevita Li, 10 Ihaia West, 9 Bryn Hall, 8 Steven Luatua, 7 Tanerau Latimer/Kara Pryor, 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Josh Bekhuis, 4 Hoani Matenga, 3 Charlie Faumuina, 2 James Parsons (captain), 1 Sam Prattley.
Substitutes: 16 Quentin MacDonald, 17 Namatahi Waa, 18 Ofa Tu’ungafasi, 19 Kara Pryor/Joe Edwards, 20 Akira Ioane, 21 Billy Guyton, 22 Matt McGahan, 23 George Moala
15. Willie le Roux, 14. JP Pietersen, 13. Paul Jordaan, 12. Andre Esterhuizen, 11. Lwazi Mvovo, 10. Joe Pietersen, 9. Cobus Reinach, 8. Philip van der Walt, 7. Jean-Luc du Preez, 6. Daniel du Preez, 5. Stephan Lewies, 4. Etienne Oosthuizen, 3. Lourens Adriaanse, 2. Franco Marais, 1. Tendai Mtawarira (captain)
Substitutes: 16. Kyle Cooper, 17. Thomas du Toit, 18. Coenie Oosthuizen, 19. Hyron Andrews, 20. Keegan Daniel, 21. Michael Claassens, 22. Garth April, 23. Odwa Ndunganev