Blues without one of their leaders for Trans-Tasman Final
TEAM ANNOUNCEMENT: Leon MacDonald has made just one change to his Blues team for their Super Rugby Trans-Tasman Final with the Highlanders at Eden Park.
Loose forward Tom Robinson, who stepped in to captain the team while Patrick Tuipoulotu was sidelined through injury, will sit out the game on Saturday due to a head knock.
His place on the blindside flank has been taken by Akira Ioane – who will almost certainly be named in the first All Blacks squad of the year on Monday after first breaking into the team last year.
Robinson isn’t the only major player the Blues will have to cope without, however, with All Blacks prop Ofa Tuungafasi still not recovered from an ongoing knee problem.
“It’s sad for Ofa who is our longest-serving current player while Tom has led us well this year when Patrick was injured,” said MacDonald. “The boys will be determined to do well for them on Saturday.”
Regardless, MacDonald is pleased to have a settled look to his side for what is a special occasion, which is expected to attract a substantial crowd to Eden Park.
“We have done the hard work in this competition. We learned from the first comp, and we have been more consistent this time,” MacDonald said. “Our defence has been strong, we have been smarter and had more discipline.
“We have thrown away trying to play the miracle ball, and focussed on playing in the right part of the field, off the back of a good set-piece.
“Of course, we want the boys to enjoy this occasion, and continue to play the type of football that has got them here.”
He said the team will be buoyed with the opportunity to play a final in front of a big contingent of their Blues fans and families but that the team won’t be taking anything for granted and are actually aware of the threat that the Highlanders possess.
“The Highlanders have been outstanding all season. They have excellent set-piece, they are very accurate and they have some dangerous attacking players. It should be a whale of a game.”
The Blues have won four of the last five games against the Highlanders, although their southern opponents have prospered in six of their last 10 encounters dating back to 2017 with six of those games were decided by seven points or less.
Blues: 15 Zarn Sullivan, 14 Bryce Heem, 13 Rieko Ioane, 12 TJ Faiane, 11 Mark Telea, 10 Otere Black, 9 Finlay Christie, 8 Hoskins Sotutu, 7 Dalton Papalii, 6 Akira Ioane, 5 Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, 4 Patrick Tuipulotu, 3 Nepo Laulala, 2 Kurt Eklund, 1 Alex Hodgman.
Replacements: 16 Ray Niuia, 17 Karl Tu’inukuafe, 18 Marcel Renata, 19 Joshua Goodhue, 20 Blake Gibson, 21 Jonathan Ruru, 22 Harry Plummer, 23 AJ Lam.
Date: Saturday, June 19
Venue: Eden Park, Auckland
Kick-off: 19.05 (07.05 GMT)
Referee: Mike Fraser
Assistant referees: Ben O’Keeffe, Paul Williams
TMO: Brendon Pickerill