Blues announce team for Stormers match

Radio Sport, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Thursday, 28 March 2019, 8:12PM

The Blues are on the brink of their third win in a row - rare territory for them - and so perhaps not surprisingly their head coach Leon MacDonald has taken a softly, softly approach in terms of his selections.

Which isn't to say that's an approach the Blues will take against a Stormers team which will attempt to bash them into submission from the opening whistle at Eden Park on Saturday, just that MacDonald hasn't changed much this week.

Blues wing Rieko Ioane retains his place for another week as predicted, and Ma'a Nonu stays at No12 despite the return of Sonny Bill Williams, but perhaps the most significant selections as the Blues attempt to build on their win over the Highlanders are in the front row.

After making a big impact from the reserves bench at Eden Park last weekend, that's where All Blacks props Karl Tu'inukuafe and Ofa Tuungafasi will once again find themselves.

Sione Mafileo and Alex Hodgman are tasked with starting the job against what is a huge Stormers pack, and Tu'inukuafe and Tuungafasi with finishing it, along with fellow big hitters Dalton Papalii and midfielder Williams.

The Blues came through in the final quarter against the Highlanders – a rare achievement for a team which hadn't beaten a Kiwi rival since round one of 2016 – and it's this finishing ability that head coach Leon MacDonald wants to keep.

If he and his team can turn a weakness into a strength it will improve them significantly and he said the message throughout what had been an excellent training week was about the need to improve in all areas.

"There are two things; who starts the best and how do we close out the game and win it at the end," MacDonald said.

"We saw the benefit of having a powerful bench [last week]. It's probably an area where historically we have lost a lot of games in that last 20 minutes but having that quality off the bench was a deciding factor in our win. It's hard to ignore that, especially when we rate Sione and Alex really highly as well."

Not surprisingly, lock Patrick Tuipulotu, so good off the bench after half an hour last week, is starting against the Stormers, a selection made easier for the fact Josh Goodhue is out with a shoulder injury.

All Black Tuipulotu, a co-captain with Blake Gibson, was at his powerful best against the Highlanders, and, after announcing a one-year contract extension with the Blues and New Zealand Rugby, is steeling himself for another big one against Springbok rival Eben Etzebeth. Papalii, who made his test debut last year, has re-signed for another three years.

Ioane, who has six tries in two matches but due for an All Black rest week, was always going to start after training during the week. With fellow wings Caleb Clarke and Matt Duffie returning from injury via the Blues' second team, Ioane could miss next weekend's visit of the Waratahs.

MacDonald said of Ioane: "We just felt consistency of performance was critical and he's obviously a big part of that."

Otere Black starts at No10 – a nod to his sounder kicking game – with Nonu staying in the midfield along with TJ Faiane, who was excellent last week.

"It was a tight call, a really tough call," said MacDonald after the return of Williams from Christchurch. "I thought Sonny was one of our better players against the Sunwolves, especially with his leadership. And then Ma'a gets an opportunity and his leadership was fantastic and he put in his best performance of the year.

"The most pleasing thing is we're definitely not happy with where we are at," MacDonald added. "We need to keep getting better; those games are won and lost on certain games and you can't get ahead of yourself. There were times when we didn't get it right as well."

The Blues team to play the Stormers at Eden Park on Saturday at 7.35pm is: 15 Melani Nanai, 14 Tanielu Tele'a, 13 TJ Faiane, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Rieko Ioane, 10 Otere Black, 9 Jonathan Ruru; 8 Akira Ioane, 7 Blake Gibson, 6 Tom Robinson, 5 Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, 4 Patrick Tuipulotu, 3 Sione Mafileo, 2 James Parsons, 1 Alex Hodgman.

Reserves: 16 Matt Moulds, 17 Karl Tu'inukuafe, 18 Ofa Tuungafasi, 19 Scott Scrafton, 20 Dalton Papalii, 21 Augustine Pulu, 22 Harry Plummer, 23 Sonny Bill Williams.


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