Former All Blacks scrumhalf Steve Devine is the biggest surprise omission in the Blues first starting XV for the Vodacom Super 14 opener against the Hurricanes on Friday.
Blues coach David Nucifora has picked John Senio at scrumhalf and Isa Nacewa at fullback in announcing his strongest available line-up.
Surprisingly, Brent Ward has to be content with a position on the bench.
Another selection that has stunned the locals is Ben Atiga ahead of the impressive Anthony Tuitavake of North Harbour in the midfield.
“We had some tough choices to make, especially in the backline where we have a lot of depth,” Nucifora told the media. “There were some very tough choices but it’s going to be a long season and those boys are all going to get their opportunity.”
Nucifora told reporters that the one decision that had been hardest to make was that of Atiga ahead of Tuitavake.
“That was very tough. That’s a luxury for us at the moment. They’ve both been playing well and training well. Probably Anthony not getting the amount of game time with a couple of niggly injuries of late just counted against him at the last minute.”
Nucifora has also included six current and former All Blacks in his pack, with South African-born lock Greg Rawlinson having established himself as the senior lock partner to All Black Ali Williams.
BLUES: 15 Isa Nacewa, 14 Doug Howlett, 13 Ben Atiga, 12 Luke McAlister, 11 Joe Rokocoko, 10 Tasesa Lavea, 9 John Senio; 8 Angus Macdonald, 7 Daniel Braid, 6 Nick Williams, 5 Greg Rawlinson, 4 Ali Williams, 3 John Afoa, 2 Keven Mealamu (c), 1 Tony Woodcock. Subs: 16 Tim Dow, 17 Saimone Taumoepeau, 18 Kurtis Haiu, 19 Justin Collins, 20 Steve Devine, 21 Rua Tipoki and 22 Brent Ward.