Keven Mealamu’s durability has been hailed after he was named for his record 163rd Super Rugby appearance on Saturday.
All Blacks and Blues hooker Mealamu will become the most capped player in the 20 years of the championship when he starts against the Lions on Saturday, surpassing the record held by retired Australian lock Nathan Sharpe, who represented the Queensland and the Western Force.
Mealamu, 35, was rested for the Blues’ first three games, which were all lost, but returns in place of James Parsons in one of five changes for the game in Albany.
Blues coach Sir John Kirwan says the record couldn’t have fallen to a more worthy player.
“Keven is an inspirational character both on and off the field.
“He exemplifies all of the qualities that we strive for at the Blues in desire, hard work, resilience, loyalty and integrity.
“He will bring a real lift to the team and I am sure the boys will want him to celebrate his milestone with a good performance.”
It is another longevity record for Mealamu, who has indicated this year is likely to be his last.
During last November’s All Blacks tour, Mealamu moved past Colin Meads’ New Zealand record of 361 first class games.
His 123 Tests is second behind Richie McCaw for the All Blacks and the fifth-most by any player.
A flanker at New Zealand schoolboy level, Mealamu made his Blues debut in 2000.
He struggled to hold down a regular starting spot during his first two seasons and was picked up in the 2002 draft by the Chiefs, where he played 11 games.
He returned to the Blues in 2003, helping them to the most recent of their three titles.
Mealamu will pack down alongside prop Ofa Tu’ungafasi, who gets his first start of the season in place of rested All Black Tony Woodcock.
Two changes to the backline come at inside centre, where Francis Saili replaces Mike Northcott, and on the wing, where Frank Halai makes his first start of the year following off-season shoulder surgery.
Halai’s return demotes Tevita Li and results in a shift to the left wing for Melani Nanai, who made his debut on the right wing in last week’s 25-24 loss to the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein.
Blues: Lolagi Visinia, Frank Halai, Charles Piutau, Francis Saili, Melani Nanai, Ihaia West, Jimmy Cowan, Jerome Kaino (capt), Luke Braid, Steven Luatua, Patrick Tuipulotu, Josh Bekhuis, Charlie Faumuina, Keven Mealamu, Ofa Tu’ungafasi. Reserves: James Parsons, Sam Prattley, Angus Ta’avao, Hayden Triggs, Brendon O’Connor, Jamison Gibson-Park, Simon Hickey, Hamish Northcott.