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All Blacks trio return to starting side as Blues look to bounce back vs. Tahs

By Finn Morton
Caleb Clarke of the Blues during the round one Super Rugby Pacific match between the Blues and Fijian Drua at Semenoff Stadium, on February 24, 2024, in Whangarei, New Zealand. (Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images)

All Blacks Caleb Clarke, Hoskins Sotutu and Ofa Tu’ungafasi have been named to return to the Blues’ starting side this weekend as the Aucklanders look to return to winning ways against the Waratahs at Sydney’s Allianz Stadium.

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The Blues are third on the Super Rugby Pacific standings heading into Round Four following wins over the Fijian Dura and Highlanders in the opening couple of rounds.

But the Blues were handed an early season wakeup call last Saturday when they ventured down to the nation’s capital to take on a red-hot Hurricanes outfit. The Canes are the only undefeated side left in the competition after recording a clinical 29-21 win.

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Looking to bounce back in a rematch of one of last season’s quarter-finals, albeit being a home game for the Tahs this time, coach Vern Cotter has named a star-studded matchday 23.

The starting side alone boasts plenty of international experience with the likes of Finlay Christie, Stephen Perofeta, Rieko Ioane, Mark Tele’a and captain Dalton Papali’i set to take the field at the well-known Sydney venue.

“This Super season has already thrown up a mixed bag of results; you get the feeling that anyone can get tipped up on any given day,” captain Papali’i said in a statement.

“These away games are important for us early in the season. We have a run of home games through the middle of the competition and we don’t want to look back at these early season games and have any regrets.”

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Coach Cotter is expecting All Black Ofa Tu’ungafasi “to lead with his physicality” this weekend after being named to start alongside hooker Kurt Eklund and prop Marcel Renata.

The front-row trio joins locks Josh Beehre and Laghlan McWhannell in the tight five, and backrowers Akira Ioane, Dalton Papali’i and Hoskins Sotutu in the forward pack.

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Sotutu, 25, was sensational during his first two starts this season by scoring five tries across two matches. But after being benched last week, the 14-Test All Black is back in the No. 8 jersey.

The backline is full of world-class talent, with a notable change being that Bryce Heem slots in at second five alongside Rieko Ioane in the midfield.

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“Already this season we’ve seen how dangerous the Waratahs can be, they’ll be up for it, especially in front of their home fans on a Saturday night,” Cotter said.

“I’ve been impressed by Kurt and Marcel so far this season, and those boys know any dominant display starts up front with their work in the dark spaces,” he added.

This Trans-Tasman derby between the Waratahs and Blues is scheduled to kick off at 9:35 pm (NZT) on Saturday evening at Sydney’s Allianz Stadium.

Blues team to take on Waratahs

  1. Ofa Tu’ungafasi
  2. Kurt Eklund
  3. Marcel Renata
  4. Josh Beehre
  5. Laghlan McWhannell
  6. Akira Ioane
  7. Dalton Papali’i (c)
  8. Hoskins Sotutu
  9. Finlay Christie
  10. Stephen Perofeta
  11. Caleb Clarke
  12. Bryce Heem
  13. Rieko Ioane
  14. Mark Tele’a
  15. Zarn Sullivan

Reserves

  1. Soane Vikena
  2. Joshua Fusitu’a
  3. Angus Ta’avao
  4. Cameron Suafoa
  5. Anton Segner
  6. Sam Nock
  7. Harry Plummer
  8. Cole Forbes

Players not considered: Patrick Tuipulotu (jaw), Sam Darry (knee), AJ Lam (concussion)

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