The big guns are back for the Blues, including co-captains James Parsons and Jerome Kaino, and fellow All Blacks Charlie Faumuina and lock Patrick Tuipulotu, as they prepare for what is likely to be a desperate Highlanders team at Eden Park on Saturday.

Hooker Parsons returns from a long lay-off from concussion, his 40 minutes for the development team against their Chiefs counterparts at Waikato Stadium last weekend the final hurdle in a long and frustrating recovery for him.

Loose forward Kaino returns from his late start as agreed by the All Blacks management and he will add quality to the pack in the absence of the suspended Steven Luatua. Faumuina starts at tighthead prop and Tuipulotu at lock.

In the backs, Rene Ranger starts on the wing ahead of Melani Nanai and George Moala replaces Piers Francis at second-five.


"Jerome and Patrick had delayed starts while Charlie has worked his way to excellent form, and both George and Rene impressed when they came on last week against the Chiefs," coach Tana Umaga said.

"There's good depth in this squad and so there is going to be times when strong players won't always get starts."

For Parsons, the return after he suffered a head injury while playing for North Harbour in September last year is an extremely welcome one. "It's been a long process ... but a lot of positives have come out of it," he said. "When you're given challenges you find a fair bit out about yourself. Now I'm at the other end I can see those learnings and I'm excited to do my role for the team."

The Blues will be hoping bounce back from their defeat to the Chiefs in Hamilton, a loss all but guaranteed after the 40th-minute red card handed to Luatua for an off-the-ball high tackle on Tim Nanai-Williams.

The Highlanders, meanwhile, have had a tough start to what is a horror draw - they've lost to the Chiefs and Crusaders at home, and badly need a victory ahead of trips to play the Hurricanes and Brumbies.

For the southerners, No8 Luke Whitelock and inside back Marty Banks return from injury, the latter on the reserves bench.

Head coach Tony Brown has named a forward-heavy replacement list with six on the bench along with two backs.

The Blues team for their match against the Highlanders at Eden Park on Saturday, kick-off 7.35pm, is: Michael Collins, Matt Duffie, Rieko Ioane, George Moala, Rene Ranger, Ihaia West, Augustine Pulu, Murphy Taramai, Blake Gibson, Jerome Kaino, Patrick Tuipulotu, Jimmy Tupou, Charlie Faumuina, James Parsons (c), Pauliasi Manu.
Reserves: Matt Moulds, Sam Prattley, Ofa Tu'ungafasi, Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, Akira Ioane, Billy Guyton, Piers Francis, Melani Nanai.

Highlanders: Richard Buckman, Waisake Naholo, Malakai Fekitoa, Rob Thompson, Tevita Li, Lima Sopoaga, Aaron Smith, Luke Whitelock, Elliot Dixon (c), Gareth Evans, Tom Franklin, Alex Ainley, Siosuia Halanukonuka, Liam Coltman, Daniel Lienert-Brown. Reserves: Sekonia Pole, Aki Seiuli, Siate Tokolahi, Joe Wheeler, Jackson Hemopo, Dillon Hunt, Kayne Hammington, Marty Banks.