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Blues v Force: Teams
At Eden Park, Saturday July 7, kick-off 8.35am
Captain Keven Mealamu will lead out the Blues for the first time in almost three months when they face the Western Force at Eden Park on Saturday.
The inclusion of Mealamu, who returns after recovering from a recurring calf injury, in the starting XV is one of four changes to the Blues side that took on the Chiefs in Week 15.
While Mealamu makes a welcome return, the Blues' injury woes have continued as outside backs Rudi Wulf and David Raikuna became the latest players to join the club's casualty list.
Ex-Blues star Orene Ai'i returns to where it all began as he looks set to make his first appearance in Blues colours since 2004, while promising New Zealand Sevens player Charles Piutau starts at full-back for his Super Rugby debut with less than a week's training under his belt.
There is also a call-up for lock Andrew Van der Heijden who will start against the Force, filling the void for the injured Ali Williams and Filo Paulo who has been suspended for the rest of the season.
Piri Weepu will start at half-back ahead of Alby Mathewson, while fellow All Black Ma'a Nonu is refreshed and raring to make an impact after enjoying a rare five-week break during the June Test window.
The Force have named a revamped back-row. Angus Cottrell returns to the side at openside flanker, while No.8 Lachlan McCaffery earns his promotion to the starting team from the bench.
Pocock's absence (groin) opens the way for Nathan Sharpe to resume his captaincy of the side - a position he held for the Force's first six seasons.
The other changes see ex-Blues centre Winston Stanley earn a call-up to face his former side, and Brett Sheehan return at nine for Josh Holmes.
The Force will feature a number of changes in their reserves with former Fijian Warriors representative Anare Koliavu joining prop Ruan Smith and lock Ollie Atkins in the quest for their Super Rugby debuts.
Hooker Ben Whittaker has been called into the matchday 22 replacing Elvis Taione, while Australian U20 fly-half Kyle Godwin will make his first appearance in the Force squad since returning from the IRB Junior World Championship in South Africa last month.
Blues: 15 Charles Piutau, 14 Lachie Munro, 13 Francis Saili, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Rene Ranger, 10 Michael Hobbs, 9 Piri Weepu, 8 Luke Braid, 7 Daniel Braid, 6 Steven Luatua, 5 Andrew Van der Heijden, 4 Liaki Moli, 3 Tevita Mailau, 2 Keven Mealamu, 1 Tony Woodcock.
Replacements: 16 Tom McCartney, 17 Angus Ta'avao, 18 Chris Lowrey, 19 Peter Saili, 20 Alby Mathewson, 21 Orene Ai'i, 22 Hadleigh Parkes.
Western Force: 15 Alfie Mafi, 14 Nick Cummins, 13 Will Tupou, 12 Winston Stanley, 11 Napolioni Nalaga, 10 Ben Seymour, 9 Brett Sheehan, 8 Lachlan McCaffery, 7 Angus Cottrell, 6 Richard Brown, 5 Nathan Sharpe (c), 4 Toby Lynn, 3 Salesi Manu, 2 Nathan Charles, 1 Pek Cowan.
Replacements: 16 Ben Whittaker, 17 Ruan Smith, 18 Ollie Atkins, 19 Anare Koliavu, 20 Josh Holmes, 21 Kyle Godwin, 22 Patrick Dellit.
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