Former NZ 20s midfielder TJ Faiane handed first start for Blues as Rieko Ioane rested

He's had to wait more than two years but TJ Faiane's first start for the Blues has finally arrived.

The former New Zealand under-20s midfielder made his Super Rugby debut off the bench two weeks ago against the Crusaders, an occasion that would have come much sooner but for successive season-ending knee injuries.

This week Tana Umaga has thrown Faiane the second five-eighth starting role for the Blues match against the Western Force at Eden Park on Saturday, pushing George Moala out to centre and spelling Rieko Ioane on the bench.

Faiane, a former St Kentigern College star and popular member of the Blues, played for the New Zealand Secondary Schools and under-20s in 2014 and 2015, when he was also selected for Auckland. ACL injuries ruled him out of rugby for most of 2015 and all of 2016 season.

Back then his footwork, agility at the line and long passing game were noted strengths. With Moala outside him he won't be expected to provide the same punch, but still needs to showcase some of those abilities in contact. 

"I am excited for TJ who has trained so hard and earned his opportunity to start," Umaga said. "It will present us with another option at midfield and the chance for George to play a more expansive role at centre."

The only other change sees openside flanker Blake Gibson given a rest after taking a battering in the win over the Bulls last week. North Harbour's Murphy Taramai starts in his place.

"Both Blake and Rieko are young players who have done extremely well in five straight games this year.  Blake had a few bumps and bruises after last week and gets a chance to freshen up and Rieko has the opportunity to provide impact off the bench."

Blues team:

Michael Collins, Matt Duffie, George Moala, TJ Faiane, Melani Nanai, Piers Francis, Augustine Pulu, Jerome Kaino, Murphy Taramai, Jimmy Tupou, Patrick Tuipulotu, Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, Charlie Faumuina, James Parsons, Pauliasi Manu

Reserves: Matt Moulds, Ofa Tu'ungafasi or Sam Prattley, Sione Mafileo, Scott Scrafton, Akira Ioane, Billy Guyton, Ihaia West, Rieko Ioane


Photo: Kai Schwoerer (TJ Faiane will make his first start for the Blues against the Force on Saturday).