AUCKLAND - Promising young Blues fly-half Simon Hickey will make his Super Rugby debut against the Crusaders in Auckland tonight.
The New Zealand U20 playmaker and Auckland ITM Cup player of the year is in the Blues wider training group and comes into the starting XV for Chris Noakes, who drops out of the matchday 23.
Hickey has impressed Blues coach Sir John Kirwan enough to believe he should be given an opportunity to guide the team.
"We think it's time to give him a chance," Kirwan said.
"If we want to create internal competition then we need to start that now."
"He's had the same pathway as (Aaron) Cruden and he's got the calmness of Foxy (Grant Fox) so I think he's a mature young man who's ready for the next step.
"I've got complete faith in him and he's ready. I told him to just get out there, do what you do and enjoy it."
20-year-old Hickey is joined by a number of youngsters in the starting XV, with U20 teammate Patrick Tuipulotu and 18-year-old wing Tevita Li promoted from the bench to start against the Crusaders.
However the Blues have been bolstered by plenty of experience as veteran All Black centurions Keven Mealamu and Tony Woodcock are named on the bench.
"It's fantastic to have our two old heads back and I'm excited for them," Kirwan said.
"They're acting like 21-year-olds they're so excited about it so that's great and it's what we wanted to achieve. Just having them there for us with that experience, you can't put a price on that.
"It's a big game for us, both teams are under pressure after first round losses and having that experience off the bench to bring a calmness late in the game is going to be critical."
Sam Prattley replaces Ofa Tu'ungafasi at loosehead prop, while captain Luke Braid who suffered an ankle injury against the Highlanders is bracketed with Brendon O'Connor. A decision on Braid's fitness will be made later in the week.
With Francis Saili ruled out of action with a foot injury, George Moala shifts into centre as Tevita Li makes his run-on debut on the left wing.
"With Francis out we've put our pre-season midfield combination of Jackson and George back together and George has been playing well in both positions," added Kirwan.