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Luke Braid to captain Blues against Highlanders

Published: 5:18PM Wednesday April 18, 2012 Source: ONE Sport

Luke Braid has been named captain of the Blues side to play the Highlanders on Friday in the absence of Keven Mealamu, who is out with a calf injury.

Braid only returned to the side last Friday against the Sharks, having served a three-week suspension for striking a Stormers player in the back of the neck during their match in Cape Town.

"Luke was selected by his team-mates as the Player of the Year in 2011. He has a lot of respect within the team and that is reflected in his high work-rate and consistent on-field performance. He is a natural leader and we see him as a future captain," coach Pat Lam said.

Lam said he also expects the added responsibility will bring the best out of Braid, whom he believes has been one of the key players for the Blues over the past two seasons.

"It will help his own play, where he consistently brings up quality performances and I think this was a good opportunity to give him a run at captain."

Luke's brother Daniel moves to the reserves, making way for Chris Lowrey, while Ali Williams returns to the starting XV after a week on the bench to provide experience to the forward pack.

"When you look at the players on the injury list this week as well as having Dan Braid on the bench, we are without a lot of senior players and leaders. We need Ali out there from first whistle this week," Lam said.

But Williams' spot as starter is not guaranteed, Lam said, as Williams has struggled to reclaim the form that saw him star in the All Blacks' successful World Cup campaign.

"This is  a game he needs to perform in. The acid's on Ali and he knows that. It's a good game and a local derby that he can go out there and show what he's made of."

Another All Black star, Piri Weepu, will remain on the bench as his struggle with fitness continues.

Lam said Weepu was "not far off" but was not yet in good enough physical condition to challenge the Gareth Anscombe - Alby Mathewson association in the halves.

"Until there's more pressure coming from Piri and others we want to keep that combination."

A nerve injury to Rudi Wulf also sees him join Keven Mealamu in the stands, with Hadleigh Parkes coming into the back three to replace him.

Ali Williams will start in the second row, with Liaki Moli dropping to the bench.

There is no place in the 22 for Lachie Munro, while Sherwin Stowers is once again overlooked.

Blues: Hadleigh Parkes, George Moala, Rene Ranger, Ma'a Nonu, Benson Stanley, Gareth Anscombe, Alby Mathewson, Peter Saili, Luke Braid (c), Chris Lowrey, Filo Paulo, Ali Williams, Charlie Faumuina, Tom McCartney, Tony Woodcock.

Reserves: James Parsons, Tevita Mailau, Liaki Moli, Daniel Braid, Piri Weepu, Michael Hobbs, David Raikuna.