Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

Rugby: Willison to start for Blues

Experienced midfield gain Jackson Willison will start his first Blues match against the All Black benchmark Ma'a Nonu.

Willison is one of two changes to the Blues starting group with Tim Perry coming into loosehead prop for Friday's match at Eden Park with the Highlanders.

There is a familiar name in the reserves for the first time with former captain and All Black hooker Keven Mealamu starting his season after his sabbatical.

Both sides' season fates may hinge on this game with the Highlanders yet to record a victory and the Blues struggling with a three game losing streak.

When Nonu decided late last season he was taking his rugby frame down south to the Highlanders, the Blues claimed Chiefs discard Willison.

The midfield back was a four season veteran of Super 15 with the Chiefs and part of their title-winning squad last year.

But those honours did not stack up for Willison even when Sonny Bill Williams decided to take his skills offshore to rugby league.

Willison felt the selection squeeze as the Chiefs gathered Bundee Aki and Charlie Ngatai to fit in with Andrew Horrell at second five eighths.

However Nonu's change of heart gave Willison an opening as Blues backup to the exciting Francis Saili and after three appearances off the bench, Willison has been picked to start on Friday.

The uncapped Perry made his debut against the Bulls and his strong scrummaging impressed the Blues selectors.

He takes over from Tom McCartney who moved from hooker to cover the loosehead role left vacant when Tony Woodcock also headed south and late to the Highlanders.

Blues: Charles Piutau, Frank Halai, Rene Ranger, Jackson Willison, George Moala, Chris Noakes, Piri Weepu, Peter Saili, Luke Braid, Steven Luatua, Culum Retallick, Ali Williams (c), Angus Ta'avao, James Parsons, Tim Perry. Reserves: Keven Mealamu, Ofa Tu'ungafasi, Anthony Boric, Brendon O'Connor, Jamison Gibson-Park, Baden Kerr, Francis Saili.

- NZ Herald

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