Queensland Reds playmaker James O’Connor will make his return from injury against the Blues at Eden Park in Round 13 of Super Rugby Pacific this Saturday night.
O’Connor is one of six changes to the Queensland starting XV, with the 31-year-old flyhalf making an early comeback from a knee injury suffered against the Melbourne Rebels in Round 9.
Fellow Wallaby Hunter Paisami also returns to the side after recovering from a shoulder injury and will push to inside-centre after Josh Flook’s strong performance in the number-13 jersey against the Highlanders.
Angus Scott-Young will start at openside flanker with Fraser McReight ruled-out with non-covid related illness, while Connor Vest comes back into the side for his third Super Rugby start.
Angus Blyth returns to the run-on side at look, as does veteran hooker Albert Anae who will start for Queensland for the first time since 2014 with Richie Asiata unavailable.
Reds head coach Brad Thorn said: “We’re looking forward to flying over to New Zealand again. We haven’t played at Eden Park in four years. It’s an iconic stadium and a good challenge awaits us.
“The Blues are on top for a reason. They’re a quality side and we are expecting a tough match on Saturday night.
“We’ve lost a couple of close ones in the last few weeks which has been disappointing. We’ll take the learnings out of those games in what will be a tough contest this week,” said Thorn.
Anae will start in the frontrow alongside Feao Fotuaika and Dane Zander, while Blyth will resume his partnership with Ryan Smith in the backrow.
Seru Uru shifts to number-eight to replace Harry Wilson as the backrower continues to recover from concussion, with Scott-Young and Vest starting in the loose forwards.
Skipper Tate McDermott and O’Connor are set to reprise their combination in the halves, with Queensland looking to snap a three-game losing streak as the season enters its final three rounds.
Paisami and Flook form a new-look centre combination, while Jordan Petaia, Suliasi Vunivalu and Jock Campbell again start in the back three.
Off the bench, Tuaina Taii Tualima and Kalani Thomas return to the 23, with Lukhan Salakaia-Loto and Hamish Stewart set to provide impact as finishers.
The fixture will be broadcast live and exclusively on Stan Sport, with kick-off set for 5:05pm AEST.
Blues v Queensland Reds, Eden Park, Auckland, kick-off 5:05pm AEST:
- Dane Zander – Norths
- Albert Anae – Brothers
- Feao Fotuaika – Sunnybank
- Ryan Smith – Brothers
- Angus Blyth – Bond University
- Connor Vest – University of Queensland
- Angus Scott-Young – University of Queensland
- Seru Uru – Wests
- Tate McDermott (c) – University of Queensland
- James O’Connor – Brothers
- Jordan Petaia – Wests
- Hunter Paisami – Wests
- Josh Flook – Brothers
- Suliasi Vunivalu – Wests
- Jock Campbell – University of Queensland
- Matt Faessler – Brothers
- Harry Hoopert - Brothers
- Sef Fa’agase – University of Queensland
- Lukhan Salakaia-Loto – Souths
- Tuaina Taii Tualima – GPS
- Kalani Thomas – University of Queensland
- Hamish Stewart – Brothers
- Lawson Creighton – Brothers