Openside flanker Luke Braid has shaken off a shoulder injury and will captain the Blues in their Super Rugby clash against the Sharks.

Luke Braid returns from injury to captain the Blues against the Sharks in Auckland on Friday.

The openside flanker missed the past two games against the Chiefs and Queensland with a shoulder injury, but after another week off with the bye Braid is back to full fitness and raring to go.

“It was really important to make sure we gave Luke time to recover from his shoulder,” Blues coach Sir John Kirwan said.

“He’s our leader and has been playing out of his skin for us, so I think it’s really good that he’s back and he will give us good direction and leadership.”

Braid’s inclusion ahead of Brendon O’Connor is the only change to the forward pack.

Charles Piutau’s knee injury has forced a reshuffle to the backline, with Lolagi Visinia moving from wing to fullback and New Zealand under-20 player Tevita Li starting on the left wing.

Pita Ahki will start at centre in place of injured players Francis Saili and Jackson Willison.

Halfback Jamison Gibson-Park comes onto the bench in place of Piri Weepu, who injured his groin playing club rugby in Wellington last week, while outside back Albert Nikoro is named in the squad for the first time this season.

Friday’s match is a must-win for the Blues if they are to keep their hopes of making the playoffs alive. They sit fifth in the New Zealand conference, and 10th overall.

Blues: Lolagi Visinia, Frank Halai, Pita Ahki, Ma’a Nonu, Tevita Li, Simon Hickey, Bryn Hall, Jerome Kaino, Luke Braid, Peter Saili, Tom Donnelly, Patrick Tuipulotu, Charlie Faumuina, Keven Mealamu, Tony Woodcock. Reserves: James Parson, Sam Prattley, Angus Ta’avao, Hayden Triggs, Steven Luatua, Jamison Gibson-Park, Ihaia West, Albert Nikoro.