Williams lines up against Sharks

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Williams lines up against Sharks

All Blacks lock Ali Williams will make his first start of this year’s Super 14 campaign when the Blues take on the Sharks in Auckland this Saturday.

Williams has overcome a niggling back problem that kept him out of the side’s first three games and is fit to face the men from Durban in the Blues’ first home game of the season.

The 27-year-old’s return is a timely one with fellow All Blacks lock Anthony Boric sidelined with a fractured elbow.

“He will give the team a lift,” said a delighted Pat Lam. “It’s pleasing and Ali is really keen to get into it.”

With Williams having spent last year with the Crusaders, it’s a landmark game as he returns to his home franchise and links up with his old Auckland coach Lam.

“From what I know of him, he’s exactly the same,” Lam said of Williams. “The key thing is he has probably improved in his rugby as we all do with age. But certainly he’s a great team man, he just enjoys being in that rugby environment and he’s really looking forward to getting out there.”

Meanwhile, Jimmy Gopperth will run at flyhalf while Onosa’i Auva’a will start at openside flank in place of Josh Blackie who moves to the bench.

Lam revealed that Gopperth and Auva’a had flown home early from South Africa to help counter the travel factor and give them a head start in their preparations for this weekend’s crunch tie.

Impressive youngster Chris Lowrey is back in the No 8 jersey and Jerome Kaino makes the move blindside in place of Justin Collins.

Blues - Isaia Toeava, Paul Williams, Anthony Tuitavake, Jamie Helleur, Joe Rokocoko, Jimmy Gopperth, Taniela Moa, Chris Lowrey, Onosa’i Auva’a, Jerome Kaino, Ali Williams, Kurtis Haiu, John Afoa, Keven Mealamu (c), Tony Woodcock.

Subs – Tom McCartney, Charlie Faumuina, Jay Williams, Josh Blackie, Chris Smylie, Michael Hobbs, Winston Stanley.

Cowan back for Highlanders

The Highlanders have been boosted by the return of All Blacks scrumhalf Jimmy Cowan for Friday’s game against the Crusaders in Dunedin.

Cowan returns after missing two matches since injuring an elbow in the season-opening loss to the Brumbies. He replaces Sean Romans, who drops to the bench.

Highlanders head coach Glenn Moore has made two other changes from the line-up that started last Friday’s 16-34 loss to the Waratahs in Sydney.

George Naoupu replaces No 8 Stephen Setephano while Jayden Hayward replaces the injured Johnny Leota at second five-eighth.

Highlanders – Israel Dagg, Ben Smith, Jason Shoemark, Jayden Hayward, Fetu’u Vainikolo, Daniel Bowden, Jimmy Cowan (c), George Naoupu, Alando Soakai, Adam Thomson, Hayden Triggs, Josh Bekhuis, Clint Newland, David Hall, Chris King.
Subs – Jason Rutledge, Anthony Perenise, Tom Donnelly, Steven Setephano, Sean Romans, Mathew Berquist, Kendrick Lynn.

Injury-hit Saders call on Cook

Tasman wing Blair Cook has been called included in the Crusaders to face the Highlanders in Dunedin on Saturday.

Cook has been brought in in place of regular left wing Kade Poki who sprained an ankle against the Hurricanes last Friday, while Sean Maitland remains sidelined by a hamstring strain.

Lock Brad Thorn has been cleared to play, but the injury-plagued Crusaders are still without fullback Leon MacDonald who injured his AC shoulder joint in the opening match against the Chiefs and centre Casey Laulala, who suffered a right shoulder injury against the Hurricanes.

All Blacks scrumhalf Andrew Ellis, while bracketed with Kahn Fotuali’i, is expected to take his place behind the forward pack after recovering from a torn ligament in his right ankle.

Crusaders – Stephen Brett, Jared Payne, Adam Whitelock, Tim Bateman, Blair Cook, Colin Slade, Andy Ellis/Kahn Fotuali’i, Thomas Waldrom, Richie McCaw (c), Kieran Read, Ross Filipo, Brad Thorn, Ben Franks/Bronson Murray, Jason Macdonald, Wyatt Crockett.
Subs: Dan Perrin, Bronson Murray/Owen Franks, Isaac Ross, George Whitelock, Kahn Fotuali’i/Tyson Keats, Ryan Crotty, Hamish Gard.

Hore bracketed on bench

Andrew Hore will have to come through a fitness test if he hopes to get some game time against the Cheetahs this weekend.

The All Blacks hooker has been sidelined since injuring an ankle four minutes into the Bledisloe Cup match against Australia in Hong Kong back in November.

Hore faces a late fitness test and, if he passes, will be on the bench, with Dane Coles starting at hooker after missing a week through suspension following his arrest for disorderly behaviour.

Hore has been bracketed with Ged Robinson, while Neemia Tialata plays in the front row, displacing John Schwalger. Tamati Ellison will play at fullback with Cory Jane out injured.

Hurricanes - Tamati Ellison, Zac Guildford, Conrad Smith, Ma’a Nonu, Hosea Gear, Piri Weepu, Alby Mathewson, Rodney So’oialo, Scott Waldrom, Karl Lowe, Jason Eaton, Jeremy Thrush, Tim Fairbrother, Dane Coles, Neemia Tialata.
Subs – Andrew Hore/Ged Robinson, John Schwalger, Api Naikatini, Faifili Levave, Willie Ripia, Jason Kawau, David Smith.

This thread will be updated throughout the day.