Benji Marshall will make his first start for the Blues when they take on the Lions at Ellis Park on Sunday morning (kick-off 2am NZT).
The star rugby league convert will line up at fullback in a Blues side featuring five changes to the one that lost to the Bulls last week.
“It’s exciting getting my first start,” Marshall said.
“I’ve been looking forward to getting another taste since the first twenty minutes I got against the Highlanders so I’ve just had to have a bit of patience, bide my time a bit and the time has come so I’m looking forward to the challenge.”
Marshall conceded it had been a challenging few weeks after not coming off the bench against the Crusaders and being left out of the match day 23 last week.
“It’s been a tough couple of weeks patience-wise. It’s a bit of the other side of the coin for me, I’m used to being in a starting line-up in league and then coming back and having to be a bit more patient, not getting on against the Crusaders and then not being in the team the week after so to get the opportunity to start, you’ve just got to take your opportunities and this is my chance.”
Blues head coach Sir John Kirwan said he’d been impressed with the way Marshall had been training at fullback.
“We’re keeping with the theme of really trying to create some internal competition and although that’s sometimes difficult to do when you haven’t had a win we believe in what we’re doing,” Kirwan said.
“We believe that Benji deserves a start at fullback, he’s jumping out of his skin, he’s ready to go, he’s spent the last couple of weeks really refining that role so we’ll put him in there.”
Charles Piutau moves from fullback to wing to accommodate the injection of Marshall as youngster Tevita Li drops out of the side.
After adding plenty of spark and scoring a try on debut last week, Pita Ahki is rewarded with a start at second five-eighths in place of Jackson Willison who moves to the bench, while Chris Noakes replaces Simon Hickey at first five-eighths.
“Noakesy deserves another crack at it. We think he’ll be really positive for us and he’s ready and raring to go.”
In the forwards, Peter Saili is suffering from a patella tendon injury as Steven Luatua moves to the back of the scrum to replace him, with Brendon O’Connor getting his first start of the season at blindside flanker.
“We’re very fortunate to have someone of Brendon’s calibre on the bench. He doesn’t want to be on the bench and every time he comes on he tells you that so it’s important we give him a start,” Kirwan said.
“With Peter being a little bit dinged up we’ve got that opportunity to play him in that role at six. I think we’ll be playing with two flying loose forwards so I’m really excited about seeing how that works out.”
Patrick Tuipulotu replaces Liaki Moli at lock, while Jordan Manihera is poised to make his Super Rugby debut after being named on the bench.
Kirwan said the focus this week had been on keeping it simple, and he was expecting a similar game to last week against the Lions this Sunday.
“The Lions play a similar type of game to the Bulls. We have to match their enthusiasm, we have to be patient with the ball, cut down our errors and take our points when they’re there. We can’t let them get away to a good start.”
Kirwan said it was important to head home to New Zealand with points from South Africa.
“It’s not desperation time but if you want to be around at the end of the tournament then you’ve got to keep in touch with the leaderboard,” he said.
“If we do that this week we’re totally in touch with the leaderboard and we’ve played four games with a 50 per cent winning record heading home and Africa out of the way with what would be seen as a pretty difficult start to the season so if we can come home from Africa with some points we’ll be in pretty good shape.”
Blues -1. Tony Woodcock 2. James Parsons 3. Charlie Faumuina 4. Patrick Tuipulotu 5. Tom Donnelly 6. Brendon O’Connor 7. Luke Braid 8. Steven Luatua 9. Piri Weepu 10. Chris Noakes 11. Charles Piutau 12 Pita Ahki 13 George Moala 14. Frank Halai 15. Benji Marshall
Replacements: 16. Tom McCartney 17. Sam Prattley 18. Angus Ta’avao 19. Liaki Moli 20. Jordan Manhera 21. Bryn Hall 22. Simon Hickey 23 Jackson Willison