Auckland have welcomed back four of their All Blacks with open arms for their Mitre 10 Cup crossover clash against the Southland Stags, but the three forwards will need to swiftly get their heads around the new breakdown landscape.

That number includes Rieko Ioane, not technically a full All Black yet. He will slot into the No 13 jersey, as he did against Canterbury, and is a welcome sight to an outside back division shorn of the injured Lolagi Visinia and Melani Nanai and down on depth. Ioane will stay on with Auckland next week too.

Props Ofa Tu'ungafasi and Charlie Faumuina - who will run out for his 50th for the union - and lock Patrick Tuipulotu will start and offer some grunt on a ground where Auckland drew 23-all last year.

"It's good to come back into the Auckland environment. The only worry for me is the new rules," says Tuipulotu, who wears the blue and white jersey for the first time since 2014. He is perhaps the forgotten All Black, with the selectors opting not to choose a specialist lock on the bench against Australia. But the man himself is not down about it, and instead is keen to rip into it for just his second run since the Blues' closer on July 15.


In the backs, first five Tyrone Elkington-MacDonald will start at fullback, while wing Joe Ravouvou has his first run-on appearance. Midfielder Pasqualle Dunn will potentially make his debut off the bench.

"We're pretty young and green in the outside backs, so we have to get the boys talking," says Auckland assistant coach Bevan Cadwallader.

He knows the returning All Blacks will have their issues at the breakdown, but their presence is a plus for the group.

"They bring a real buzz. They haven't come back for a holiday, they've come to sharpen their knife. With the new rules, it's just a mindset thing. Once you get that you can't go off your feet, the game starts to make sense. You have to change habits of a lifetime, but they are all nationally ranked players, so they should be able to adjust quickly," he adds.
Southland are boosted by the return of first five Lima Sopoaga, though loose forward Elliot Dixon has not been released.

Auckland team to play Southland: Tyrone Elkington-MacDonald, Joe Ravouvou, Rieko Ioane, Vince Aso, Pryor Collier, Simon Hickey (c), Leon Fukofuka, Steven Luatua, Akira Ioane, Joe Edwards, Patrick Tuipulotu, Scott Scrafton, Charlie Faumuina, Greg Pleasants-Tate, Ofa Tu'ungafasi; Reserves: Kurt Eklund, Tom McHugh, Marcel Renata, Michael Fatialofa, Taleni Seu, Jono Hickey, Latiume Fosita, Pasqualle Dunn