Auckland have loaded up on lineout options and rushed the Ioanes back into action as they plan to lower Canterbury in Christchurch for the first time since 2007.

The Ioanes only flew back into the country on Tuesday after their unsuccessful Olympic sojourn and drove straight to training, which is a good sign for new coach Nick White.

A shortage of midfielders and wings due to injury means Rieko Ioane will run out at centre, partnering Hurricane Vince Aso, while there are debuts for Stacey Ili and Pryor Collier on the flanks, though both played most of their club footy at centre.

Akira Ioane, one of the stars of the 2015 campaign, where he missed just one tackle, will be injected off the bench, partly due to the fact he has yet to play under the new breakdown laws.


"I'm not going to punish them for being at the Olympics (by not playing them)," says White.

Blake Gibson's hard luck with injury, this time with a thumb fracture, means he will be on ice for another few weeks. In comes Joe Edwards to the No 7 jersey, not your typical openside, but that should not matter a lot against a Canterbury side minus Matt Todd and in a match operating under the new laws.

"We're not needing a jackler, so we've gone for another ball carrier and strong defender in Joe," White says.

That means Auckland can count on no less than five lineout options, via the two locks and all the loose trio. They might need them all to combat the likes of All Blacks Dominic Bird and Luke Romano.

Liaki Moli will win his 50th cap for Auckland, a team he has always fronted for in an injury-plagued career.

"It's great reward for Liaki. He's not a big talker, but he's great to have in the team. He's been playing blindside flanker for the Sunwolves, but it should suit him at lock," White says.

Crusader Leon Fukofuka has won the No 9 jersey ahead of Jono Hickey, meaning captain Simon Hickey will take the shots at goal, at least from the get-go.

Lock Michael Fatialofa, after a breakout season with the Hurricanes, will come off the bench, as will two Auckland debutants in first five Tyrone Elkington-MacDonald, the leading points scorer in Auckland club rugby, and with experience for the Hawke's Bay Magpies, and Tongan and former Northland five-eighths Latiume Fosita.

With other players to return from injury such as Lolagi Visinia, Joe Ravouvou, plus perhaps fringe All Blacks in Ofa Tu'ungafasi and George Moala, White concedes some heat will go on for places as the season progresses. As it is, there are 14 Super Rugby players in his 23.

Saturday night's Premiership clash will be a replay of the 2015 final, narrowly won 25-23 by the Canterbury.

Auckland: Melani Nanai, Stacey Ili, Rieko Ioane, Vince Aso, Pryor Collier, Simon Hickey (c), Leon Fukofuka, Steven Luatua, Joe Edwards, Taleni Seu, Liaki Moli, Scott Scrafton, Isi Tu'ungafasi, Greg Pleasants-Tate, Sam Prattley

Reserves: Kurt Eklund, Tom McHugh, Marcel Renata, Michael Fatialofa, Akira Ioane, Jono Hickey, Tyrone Elkington-MacDonald, Latiume Fosita