Blues v Highlanders: Teams
At Eden Park, Saturday May 26, kick-off 8.35am, watch live on Sky Sports 4HD
Last Updated: 26/05/12 11:38am
The Blues will be out to play the spoiler's role when they host the Highlanders at Eden Park on Saturday, with the visitors desperate to stay in play-off contention.
The seventh-placed Highlanders bounced back last week to beat the table-topping Bulls in Dunedin.
They will sense a chance to gain a rare win in Auckland, given the second-from-bottom Blues suffered a humiliating 59-12 loss to the Crusaders in Christchurch last weekend.
In the wake of the All Blacks training camp in Auckland last weekend, Piri Weepu, Ali Williams and Ma'a Nonu have dropped to the Blues' bench for this clash.
Injuries have also forced Blues head coach Pat Lam's hand, with 11 players ruled out.
Benson Stanley became the latest casualty after sustaining concussion against the Crusaders.
George Moala will sit out the rest of the season after undergoing surgery for a cut hand over the weekend, while Keven Mealamu, Rudi Wulf and Rene Ranger are still out.
Hooker James Parsons and midfielder Francis Saili both make their run-on debuts for the Blues alongside fellow wider training group players Hadleigh Parkes and Steven Luatua.
Lam told the club's official website: "Part of the selection is enthusiasm, excitement and energy.
"We're going to need that first and foremost against the Highlanders to get out there and really take it to them and we'll then have plenty of experience and leadership coming off the bench.
"James Parsons has come off the bench five times now and shown some real energy and deserves an opportunity to have a run out there.
"We've also been hit with quite a few injuries to the midfield and Ma'a has gone non-stop so it's a chance to give him a break and hand the opportunity over to Francis who was extremely excited when I told him."
For the Highlanders, former All Blacks scrum-half Jimmy Cowan has been named to make his first start in over two months.
The Gloucester-bound halfback has got the nod in the number nine jersey in place of Aaron Smith for Saturday's Super Rugby match.
Cowan says it's been a long time coming.
"I'm willing to go out there and put it all out there tomorrow night and hopefully I'll put a good performance in and give the coaches something to think about going forward," he said.
Cowan is one of five changes to the Highlanders starting line-up, with Andrew Hore (promoted ahead of hooker Jason Rutledge), Hoani MacDonald, Chris Noakes and Kurt Baker also coming into the side.
Baker and Noakes come in for Siale Piutau and Mike Delany respectively, while MacDonald slots in the second row with Nick Crosswell switching to number eight to fill in for Nasi Manu.
Blues: 15 Hadleigh Parkes, 14 David Raikuna, 13 Francis Saili, 12 Michael Hobbs, 11 Sherwin Stowers, 10 Gareth Anscombe, 9 Alby Mathewson, 8 Peter Saili/Luke Braid (c), 7 Luke Braid/Daniel Braid, 6 Steven Luatua, 5 Filo Paulo, 4 Liaki Moli, 3 Tevita Mailau, 2 James Parsons, 1 Tony Woodcock
Replacements: 16 Tom McCartney, 17 Angus Ta'avao, 18 Ali Williams, 19 Daniel Braid/Peter Saili/Daniel Pryor, 20 Piri Weepu, 21 Ma'a Nonu, 22 Lachie Munro
Highlanders: 15 Ben Smith, 14 Kurt Baker, 13 Tamati Ellison, 12 Phil Burleigh, 11 Hosea Gear, 10 Chris Noakes, 9 Jimmy Cowan, 8 Nick Crosswell, 7 Tim Boys, 6 Adam Thomson, 5 Hoani MacDonald, 4 Jarrad Hoeata, 3 Ma'afu Fia, 2 Andrew Hore, 1 Jamie Mackintosh (c)
Replacements: 16 Jason Rutledge, 17 Bronson Murray, 18 Josh Bekhuis, 19 Scott Fuglistaller, 20 Aaron Smith, 21 Mike Delany, 22 Kenny Lynn