All Black duo benched by Blues
Blues coach Sir John Kirwan has made a handful of changes to his starting XV to face the Sharks in Durban on Saturday, a match in which Ali Williams will make his 100th appearance for the franchise.
All Blacks Keven Mealamu and Rene Ranger only joined up with the squad earlier in the week due to their international commitments and as a result will start the match from the bench. James Parsons replaces Mealamu at hooker, while Jackson Willison slots into the number 13 jersey.
In other changes to the team that lost to the Highlanders at the beginning of the month, George Moala comes in for Waisake Naholo on the wing and Chris Noakes replaces Baden Kerr at fly-half, with Kerr dropping to the replacements.
The Blues find themselves in eighth spot on the overall Super Rugby table heading into the match and Kirwan knows that it's a must-win game if they are to remain in contention for a play-off berth.
"It's a Test match for us and the players are very excited about it. It feels a little bit like the beginning of the season for us and hopefully the game will be a little bit like that," he said.
"The guys are really excited, they've come together really well, we've been chatting all week about how important this game is for our season so it'll be very interesting to see how they deal with that sudden death pressure."
Captain Williams will join a star-studded group of players who have notched up 100 caps for the Blues when he trots out in Durban and Kirwan was quick to pay tribute to the lock.
"It's great for someone like him; he's such a proud Blues man," said Kirwan. "He's been one of the key guys driving the importance of the game this week for us as a franchise and I think it's an added bonus that Ali gets to play his 100th game for the Blues and he joins a very special club."
Blues: 15 Charles Piutau, 14 Frank Halai, 13 Jackson Willison, 12 Francis Saili, 11 George Moala, 10 Chris Noakes, 9 Piri Weepu, 8 Peter Saili, 7 Luke Braid, 6 Steven Luatua, 5 Ali Williams (c), 4 Anthony Boric, 3 Angus Ta'avao, 2 James Parsons, 1 Tim Perry.
Replacements: 16 Keven Mealamu, 17 Ofa Tu'ungafasi, 18 Kane Barrett / Culum Retallick, 19 Brendon O'Connor, 20 Jamison Gibson-Park, 21 Baden Kerr, 22 Rene Ranger.
Date: Saturday, June 29
Kick-off: 14:50 (12:50 GMT)
Venue: Kings Park, Durban
Referee: Jaco Peyper (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Tiaan Jonker (South Africa), Reuben Rossouw (South Africa)
Television match official: Willie Roos (South Africa)