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All Black Caleb Clarke benched for Blues’ blockbuster clash with Reds

By Finn Morton
Caleb Clarke of the Blues looks on ahead of the round nine Super Rugby Pacific match between Blues and ACT Brumbies at Eden Park, on April 20, 2024, in Auckland, New Zealand. (Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

All Blacks wing Caleb Clarke will look to add impact off the bench on Saturday night when the Blues take on the Queensland Reds in a blockbuster Trans-Tasman clash in Brisbane.

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Clarke, 25, was put on “lighter duties” earlier this week and will come off the pine as a result as the high-flying Blues look to remain within touching distance of the undefeated Hurricanes.

The Aucklanders are second on the Super Rugby Pacific standings after registering a statement 46-7 win over the then-third-placed Brumbies at Eden Park last Saturday.

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Vern Cotter’s men have not been beaten in almost 50 days, with their sole loss of the campaign coming against the table-toppers at the nation’s capital on March 9th.

Looking to extend their winning streak to what would be six matches, the Blues face a tough challenge in the Reds. Queensland got the better of the Highlanders 31-nil last time out.

“We’re under no illusion as to how difficult it’s going to be to play them up there in Queensland,” coach Vern Cotter said in a statement.

“All we want from our boys is consistent effort, attitude and habits; and each week is a good test of those characteristics for us as a team.”

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Akira Ioane is unavailable after staying back in Auckland before the birth of his first child. Anton Segner comes into the run-on side while there is a potential debutant on the bench.

James Thompson has been named in the No.20 jumper ahead of a potential debut. Sam Darry also returns to the First XV after coming off the bench against the Brumbies.

Head-to-Head

Last 5 Meetings

Wins
0
Draws
1
Wins
4
Average Points scored
22
34
First try wins
60%
Home team wins
20%

The rest of the starting side remains relatively consistent other than some minor tweaks to the front row with Angus Ta’avao and Soane Vikena getting the nod.

Captain Patrick Tuipulotu partners Sam Darry in the middle row, while Anton Segner, Dalton Papali’i and in-form No.8 Hoskins Sotutu round out a menacing forward pack.

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Taufa Funaki and Harry Plummer retain their spots in the halves with Finlay Christie (groin) and Stephen Perofeta (shoulder) still out of action due to injury layoffs.

Bryce Heem joins All Black Rieko Ioane in the midfield, while Mark Tele’a, AJ Lam and Cole Forbes line up in the outside backs.

Lam replaces Caleb Clarke on the wing, with Vern Cotter explaining that selection comes down to the All Black’s calf.

“Caleb’s been on lighter duties to start the week to give his calf a rest,” Cotter explained. “AJ’s been playing well, and this is an opportunity for him to start the game.”

The Blues’ two-game road trip across the ditch gets underway on Saturday when they take on the Queensland Reds at Brisbane’s Suncorp Stadium at 9:35 pm NZT.

They fly out of Auckland on Thursday.

Blues team to take on Queensland Reds

  1. Ofa Tu’ungafasi
  2. Soane Vikena
  3. Angus Ta’avao
  4. Patrick Tuipulotu (c)
  5. Sam Darry
  6. Anton Segner
  7. Dalton Papali’i
  8. Hoskins Sotutu
  9. Taufa Funaki
  10. Harry Plummer
  11. Mark Tele’a
  12. Bryce Heem
  13. Rieko Ioane
  14. AJ Lam
  15. Cole Forbes

Reserves

  1. Kurt Eklund
  2. Joshua Fusitu’a
  3. Marcel Renata
  4. Laghlan McWhannell
  5. James Thompson*
  6. Sam Nock
  7. Corey Evans
  8. Caleb Clarke

*Potential debut

Players not considered: Stephen Perofeta (shoulder), Finlay Christie (groin), Zarn Sullivan (knee), Rob Rush (calf), Cam Suafoa (sickness), Akira Ioane (paternity leave)

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