Blues load up on All Blacks
TEAM ANNOUNCEMENT: The Blues will have eight of their 10 All Blacks from 2020 available this weekend, when they face the Chiefs and Crusaders in a game-of-three-halves in Cambridge.
After missing out in last week’s game-of-three-halves against the Chiefs and Hurricanes in Upper Hutt, Rieko and Akira Ioane, Patrick Tuipulotu, Caleb Clarke, Dalton Papalii, Nepo Laulala, Karl Tu’inukuafe and Alex Hodgman will play on Saturday.
In doing so, Laulala will make his first appearance for the Blues since signing with the Auckland franchise last year, and has been named to start against his former side, the Chiefs.
The 29-year-old joins Clarke, Papalii and Hodgman in the All Blacks to face their local rivals, while the Ioane brothers, Tuipulotu and Tu’inukuafe will square off against the Crusaders.
Loose forward Hoskins Sotutu (deemed unavailable due to injury) is one of two current All Blacks ruled out for the pre-season clash, with prop Ofa Tuungafasi still serving his three-match ban for his red card against the Wallabies last October.
Coach Leon MacDonald has also used this weekend’s hastily arranged fixture to hand a number of young players and rookies some game time ahead of their season-opener against the Hurricanes in Wellington next Saturday.
For the likes of Jacob Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens, AJ Lam, Taine Plumtree, Luteru Tolai, Zarn Sullivan, Neria Fomai, Adrian Choat and Sam Darry, that could prove vital ahead of their maiden Super Rugby campaigns.
Blues skipper Tuipulotu will captain the side against the Crusaders, while fan favourite Tom Robinson will lead the team against the Chiefs.
Robinson’s appointment as leader of the side to face the Chiefs may be indicative of where he stands in a competitive group of loose forwards, which also features Sotutu, Plumtree, Papalii, Choat, Akira Ioane, Blake Gibson and the injured Dillon Hunt.
With Auckland undergoing a three-day alert level three COVID-19 lockdown earlier this week, MacDonald said the game-of-three-halves gives his squad an opportunity to make up for lost ground over that period.
“We have some time to make up, so mostly we want to focus on some basics in our patterns both with the ball and without it,” he said.
“We can build from there towards our first game in the Super Rugby Aotearoa competition which has come around very quickly.
“We will be looking for our processes and our basics and not so much on the scoreline.
“It will be a chance too for our All Blacks to get a taste of rugby, and for a fair number of our new and young players to experience the physicality and speed of Super Rugby.”
Players not considered due to injury include Soane Vikena, Rau Niuia, TJ Faiane, Dillon Hunt, Emoni Narawa, Jone Macalai, Hoskins Sotutu, Josiah Maraku.
Versus Crusaders: 15 Stephen Perofeta, 14 Jacob Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens, 13 Rieko Ioane, 12 Harry Plummer, 11 AJ Lam 10 Otere Black, 9 Jonathan Ruru; 8 Akira Ioane, 7 Blake Gibson, 6 Taine Plumtree, 5 Patrick Tuipulotu (captain), 4 Josh Goodhue, 3 Marcel Renata, 2 Luteru Tolai, 1 Karl Tu’inukuafe.
Versus Chiefs: 15 Zarn Sullivan, 14 Mark Telea, 13 Neria Fomai, 12 Tanielu Tele’a, 11 Caleb Clarke, 10 Stephen Perofeta, 9 Sam Nock; 8 Adrian Choat, 7 Dalton Papalii, 6 Tom Robinson (captain), 5 Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, 4 Sam Darry, 3 Nepo Lualala, 2 Kurt Eklund, 1 Alex Hodgman.
Replacements: James Lay, Leni Apisai, Jacob Pierce.
Date: Saturday, February 20
Venue: Hautapu Sports, Cambridge
Kick-off: The first match gets underway at 12.00 (23.00, Friday, February 19 GMT)
By Alex McLeod, RugbyPass