Super Rugby: Sonny Bill Williams to start, Ma'a Nonu off bench in Blues' finale

Sonny Bill Williams will make his long-awaited return from knee surgery in the Blues' final Super Rugby match of the year, with only pride to play for against the Hurricanes on Saturday night in the capital.

For Williams, though, the stakes are a little bit higher as the 33-year-old, who has missed almost the entire back half of the season after requiring surgery to his knee, seeks to prove his fitness ahead of the international campaign, and a tilt at a third straight World Cup with the All Blacks.

Williams' return relegates fellow dual World Cup-winning veteran Ma'a Nonu to the bench, though Blues coach Leon MacDonald emphasised after Thursday's training that he expects both experienced midfielders to play key roles in the match which does not have a lot riding on it from a competition point of view.

The Blues, with nine defeats this season and 29 competition points, cannot squeeze into the playoffs. The Hurricanes, with just three defeats and 49 points, cannot be headed for that fourth home playoff spot and second highest haul overall in the competition.

Williams said after their Thursday hitout that he would have liked to have made what may well be his final appearance in Super Rugby, and for the Blues, alongside Nonu who has made an incredible return to the New Zealand game at the ripe old age of 37.

MacDonald admitted that "greybeard" midfield pairing was considered; but in the end other factors won out, such as getting a look at the well-performed Tanielu Tele'a in his preferred centre position, with an eye to the future.

"We did consider that [pairing of Williams and Nonu] … you consider all those things when you name a team," said MacDonald. "There have been a few factors around selection: this is the right team for us this weekend, we've got an eye on the future, and we want to respect Sonny and give him a good opportunity to play because he's been working hard in the background.

"And Ma'a has carried a massive workload this year. He's been beaten up. He doesn't tell anyone, but he's got a sore body and keeps working for us while Sonny has been on the recovery path. The mix is right and we think you will see both guys play with a lot of energy when they get on the field."

MacDonald denied it was a tough call on Nonu, who, like Williams, could well be playing his final match in New Zealand at this level, and on his old home ground. Nonu has been linked with a return to Toulon in France, though has yet to make a decision on his future, if indeed he wants to continue playing.

"It's not hard news, he in the team, he's playing and he's going to get on the field and have a big influence," said MacDonald. "The big thing for us is we want him to be part of a good night, and a good night is a really good performance. We want to finish this season the right way and I'd love to see him be at the forefront of that with his performance. This is the best way to get that."

The Blues have made five changes all told to the starting XV pipped 29-28 at the Reds last week. As well as Williams slotting in for Nonu at No 12, a fit-again Caleb Clarke returns on the right wing and Rieko Ioane slips back into his No 11 jersey after his All Blacks rest.

Up front Marcel Renata starts at tighthead prop with Ofa Tu'ungafasi on his national rest week and Patrick Tuipulotu likewise returns from his round off to partner Scott Scrafton in the second row. Hisa Sasagi is also whistled up to back up at loosehead prop on the bench with Karl Tu'inukuafe still not right after a spell out with illness.