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All Blacks trio return to Blues’ starting side for crucial Crusaders clash

By Finn Morton
Rieko Ioane of the Blues runs over the try line to score during the round eight Super Rugby Aotearoa match between the Highlanders and the Blues at Forsyth Barr Stadium, on April 16, 2021, in Dunedin, New Zealand. (Photo by Joe Allison/Getty Images)

The return of All Blacks Rieko Ioane, Stephen Perofeta and Patrick Tuipulotu headlines a star-studded Blues side as the ladder leaders prepare to take on a desperate Crusaders outfit on Saturday evening.

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Ioane will line up at outside centre in his return from concussion, while Perofeta will start at fullback for the first time this season in what will also be his first game since round six.

Captain Patrick Tuipulotu is also back in the starting side after missing last weekend’s win over the Highlanders. The New Zealand international is set to partner the ever-reliable Sam Darry in the second row.

The Blues are in the box seat to finish the regular season in first place but with the Hurricanes only a few points behind them, these final two fixtures will be crucial ahead of the playoffs.

But the Aucklanders will need to make history.

The Blues have only beaten the Crusaders away once in their last 15 meetings dating back to 2010.

“We simply need to keep improving each week,” coach Vern Cotter said in a statement.

“It’s great to welcome back the likes of Rieko and Stevie. They add plenty of calm and experience to our backline.

“We’ve selected a side to go down south and go a job. Wins down in Christchurch are rare for the Blues and we want to make sure we prepare well this week and go down with a focus and determination benefitting of the occasion.”

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All Black Ofa Tu’ungafasi, who has just re-signed with the Blues and New Zealand Rugby until the end of 2026, will partner hooker Kurt Eklund and veteran Angus Ta’avao in the front row.

Head-to-Head

Last 5 Meetings

Wins
4
Draws
0
Wins
1
Average Points scored
27
20
First try wins
80%
Home team wins
80%

Other than Tuipulotu and Darry as the locking pair, coach Cotter has rounded out the forwards with the backrow trio of Akira Ioane, Adrian Choat and Hoskins Sotutu.

“We’re lucky to have a battery of quality loosies to choose from,” Cotter added.

“This week Choaty, Aki and Hoskins have their chance and I have no doubt they will bring plenty of steel to their performance on Saturday.”

Halfback Taufa Funaki joins in-form first five Harry Plummer in the halves once again this weekend, while the return of Perofeta provides another playmaking threat from fullback.

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Corey Evans joins Rieko Ioane in the midfield, while the two wingers are AJ Lam and Mark Tele’a. Keep an eye out for rising star Caleb Tangitau off the bench.

This blockbuster New Zealand derby at Christchurch’s Apollo Projects Stadium is scheduled to get underway at 7.05 pm NZT on Saturday evening.

Blues team to take on Crusaders

  1. Ofa Tu’ungafasi
  2. Kurt Eklund
  3. Angus Ta’avao
  4. Patrick Tuipulotu (c)
  5. Sam Darry
  6. Akira Ioane
  7. Adrian Choat
  8. Hoskins Sotutu
  9. Taufa Funaki
  10. Harry Plummer
  11. AJ Lam
  12. Corey Evans
  13. Rieko Ioane
  14. Mark Tele’a
  15. Stephen Perofeta

Replacements

  1. Ricky Riccitelli
  2. Joshua Fusitu’a
  3. PJ Sheck
  4. Josh Beehre
  5. Cameron Suafoa
  6. Sam Nock
  7. Cole Forbes
  8. Caleb Tangitau

Players not considered: Lucas Cashmore, Finlay Christie, Caleb Clarke, Meihana Grindlay, Bryce Heem, Jordan Lay, Marcel Renata, Zarn Sullivan, Dalton Papali’i, Laghlan McWhannell

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