Faumuina, Luatua to start in Blues swansong
Auckland - Charlie Faumuina and Steven Luatua will play their last games for the Blues in their season finale against the Sunwolves in Tokyo on Saturday (kick-off 05:05 SA time).
Coach Tana Umaga has honoured the franchise’s first ever clash against the Sunwolves with their strongest possible combination, including the Blues’ All Blacks Jerome Kaino, Faumuina, Ofa Tu’ungafasi and Akira Ioane.
While New Zealand is rugging-up for a wintry blast this week, the Blues are preparing for temperatures over 30°C for the clash against the Sunwolves.
Umaga said he is expecting a lively and challenging match.
“It is clearly a challenge to come back after a four-week break for a one-off game, as the Sunwolves have had two games in South Africa,” Umaga said. “We know the conditions will be tough but we have prepared as well as possible for that.
“We have a number of players who will be in a Blues jersey for the final time and we want to honour them, as well as honour the Sunwolves in our first time in Japan by selecting our best possible team and playing good Blues rugby.”
It will be the 99th game for the Blues for prop Faumuina, with what would have been his 100th thwarted by a bout of tonsillitis which sidelined him from their last Super game before the break, against the Reds in Samoa in Round 15.
Faumuina, who heads to France to play for Toulouse, is a major contributor to the game, with 50 games for Auckland and earning his 50th cap for the All Blacks in the final Test against the British & Irish Lions last weekend.
Luatua, who moves to England to play for Bristol under former Blues coach Pat Lam, has played 75 times for the club since his debut in 2012, including twice playing every game of the Super season.
The loose forward/lock, who turned just 26 recently, has played 38 times for Auckland and has 15 caps for the All Blacks.
The game also marks the 45th and last in Blues colours for Ihaia West, who moves to the Hurricanes next season.
The Blues had a warm-up match against the Honda club in Suzuka last weekend, with lock Patrick Tuipulotu and flyhalf Piers Francis both injured in that match and have returned home.
Others not considered include Billy Guyton (leg), Leighton Price (concussion), Jimmy Tupou (calf, Matt Moulds (knee), Kara Pryor (calf), Namatahi Waa (neck), Rieko Ioane (illness) and Sonny Bill Williams (suspended).
15 Michael Collins, 14 Matt Duffie, 13 George Moala, 12 TJ Faiane, 11 Melani Nanai, 10 Ihaia West, 9 Augustine Pulu, 8 Steven Luatua; 7 Blake Gibson, 6 Akira Ioane, 5 Scott Scrafton, 4 Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, 3 Charlie Faumuina, 2 James Parsons (captain), 1 OfaTu’ungafasi
Substitutes: 16 Hame Faiva, 17 Pauliasi Manu, 18 Sione Mafileo, 19 Josh Goodhue, 20 Jerome Kaino, 21 Sam Nock, 22 Stephen Perofeta, 23 Rene Ranger