Super Rugby 2019: Ma'a Nonu returns for Blues against Highlanders

Midfielder Ma'a Nonu will return to the starting line-up for the Blues clash with the Highlanders at Eden Park on Friday.

Sonny Bill Williams will not feature for the team, opting to instead head to Christchurch to help support the Muslim community in the wake of last week's tragedy. His absence will count as one of his All Blacks-enforced rest weeks.

Assistant coach Tom Coventry said they anticipated Williams' intentions and were completely on board with the decision.

"We were going to ask Sonny if he'd like to go," Coventry confirmed. "We were all in agreeance and it was a pretty short conversation. We all knew how hard he took it.

"We really admire what he's standing for and he has our best wishes. It's just a sign of Sonny having a really caring side. Rugby is important to everyone but, at the end of the day, it's just a game."

The only change in the forward pack sees Alex Hodgman return to the loosehead, after missing the win over the Sunwolves with a minor injury.

He'll partner the strong-scrummaging Sione Mafileo, with Karl Tu'inukuafe to come off a powerful bench that includes a host of All Blacks, including the likes of Patrick Tuipulotu and Ofa Tuungafasi.

Loose forward Blake Gibson will lead the side in the number seven jersey, after impressing in his return from injury. That shifts Dalton Papali'i to the bench.

Blues: 1-Alex Hodgman, 2-James Parsons, 3-Sione Mafileo, 4-Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, 5-Josh Goodhue, 6-Tom Robinson, 7-Blake Gibson, 8-Akira Ioane, 9-Jonathan Ruru, 10-Harry Plummer, 11-Rieko Ioane, 12-Ma'a Nonu, 13-TJ Faiane, 14-Tanielu Tele'a, 15-Melani Nanai

Reserves: 16-Leni Apisai, 17-Ofa Tuungafasi, 18-Karl Tu'inukuafe i, 19-Patrick Tuipulotu, 20-Dalton Papalii, 21-Augustine Pulu, 22-Otere Black, 23-Levi Aumua or Matt Duffie

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