Steven Luatua's return from suspension has come at a good time for the Blues.

They will need energy against the Highlanders in Dunedin on Saturday, and Luatua, who will start at No8 after serving a four-week ban for a head-high tackle, can provide that.

So can midfielder Sonny Bill Williams, who has been named on the reserves bench, and lock Patrick Tuipulotu, who will be expected to respond well to his demotion after a tough workload and a below-par performance last weekend against the Force.

Luatua, who announced he would be leaving the Blues for Bristol after this season, had a brainfade against the Chiefs in round two when putting a high shot on Tim Nanai-Williams, an indiscretion made worse for the fact the little wing didn't have the ball. But it is Luatua who can help provide the early momentum.

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"Without looking too far ahead, we're two games away from the bye and it's been a long block for us," coach Tana Umaga said of Luatua's return to the starting line-up.

"Bringing him back with his energy and his experience... prior to his indiscretion he was playing really well and we're expecting the same [against the Highlanders]. He's been training for four weeks now and it's been pretty good actually. Obviously it's not a positive for us in terms of how it happened but in terms of getting his body right - he did a fitness test during his time off and he's hit another personal best."

Umaga added: "We don't think we're too far away. We want a little bit more energy... and they want to do the same thing - they're in the same predicament as us. Hopefully we get a good game out of that, two sides desperate for a result."

Tuipulotu's move to the bench isn't based solely around performance, Umaga said. It is also a case of managing the All Blacks' workload but also rewarding form. Scott Scrafton, who will start in the No5 jersey, performed well when replacing Tuipulotu in the second half of his team's scratchy 24-15 win over the Force.

"He usually plays 80 minutes for us," Umaga said of Tuipulotu. "These games are pretty brutal and I know it's taking an affect on him - he doesn't train 100 per cent until Thursday. We gave Scott an opportunity and we're really happy with how he took it.

"By his own admission, Patrick probably hasn't been playing the best and we want to look after him."

Centre Rieko Ioane returns after a spell on the bench to partner George Moala in the midfield, with the back three of Melani Nanai, Matt Duffie and Michael Collins the most settled combination at the Blues.

The Highlanders welcome back All Black loose forward Liam Squire from a knee injury and skipper and fullback Ben Smith from a hamstring problem.

"It's good to welcome Ben and Liam back because as we all know the New Zealand derby matches are incredibly intense games - you have to be at your very best to come away with the win. Being at home this time in front of our fans, on a dry track, will hopefully help us put on a big performance," said coach Tony Brown.

Blues: Michael Collins, Matt Duffie, Rieko Ioane, George Moala, Melani Nanai, Piers Francis, Augustine Pulu, Steven Luatua, Blake Gibson, Jerome Kaino, Scott Scrafton, Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, Charlie Faumuina, James Parsons (c), Pauliasi Manu. Reserves: Matt Moulds, Ofa Tu'ungafasi, Sione Mafileo, Patrick Tuipulotu, Akira Ioane, Billy Guyton, Bryn Gatland, Sonny Bill Williams.

Highlanders: Ben Smith (c), Tevita Li, Malakai Fekitoa, Richard Buckman, Patrick Osborne, Marty Banks, Aaron Smith, Luke Whitelock, Dillon Hunt, Elliot Dixon, Tom Franklin, Alex Ainley, Siosuia Halanukonuka, Liam Coltman, Daniel Lienert-Brown. Reserves: Greg Pleasants-Tate, Aki Seiuli, Siate Tokolahi, Joe Wheeler, Liam Squire, Kayne Hammington, Fletcher Smith, Matt Faddes.