Star Blues playmaker Beauden Barrett will start at No. 10 for the first time in nearly a year this weekend after being named to start at first-five for his side’s Super Rugby Aotearoa clash against the Chiefs.
Since then, the two-time World Rugby Player of the Year has been used exclusively at No. 15 for both the All Blacks and the Blues, with both teams opting for a dual-playmaking axis between first-five and fullback.
The selection of Barrett in the backfield has come under scrutiny in recent times, however, especially with the Blues falling to two consecutive losses to the Crusaders and Hurricanes over the past fortnight.
Critics have pinpointed the lack of influence the 29-year-old has had from fullback in comparison to that of when he is playing at first-receiver.
Aside from the 45m try he scored against the Hurricanes upon his return to his former franchise last week, Barrett’s blistering running game has been noticeably absent since debuting for the Blues a month ago.
He has instead deployed a territorial style of play, putting boot to ball far more frequently than challenging defenders with his pace and footwork.
However, Blues head coach Leon MacDonald has opted to reinstate his marquee player back into the No. 10 jersey, less than a week after Barrett voiced his preference to play there rather than at fullback.
The positional shift comes after regular picot Otere Black was taken from the field last week following a collision with Hurricanes wing Ben Lam that resulted in a neck injury that required a hospital visit.
Black since been demoted to the bench for this week’s encounter with the last-placed Chiefs at Eden Park, but will have to emerge from Friday’s contact session unscathed if he is to be deemed fit to play on Sunday.
If he can’t manage that, exciting youngster Emoni Narawa, who started on the right wing last week, will take his place in the No. 22 jersey.
Narawa’s place in the starting side has been taken by breakout star Mark Telea, who has swapped wings to accomodate for the return of the in-form Caleb Clarke after he missed the Hurricanes clash to attend his grandfather’s funeral.
The duo help form a new-look back three that features one-time All Black Matt Duffie as Barrett’s replacement at fullback.
In the forward pack, experienced flanker Blake Gibson is named to start at blindside flanker for his 50th Blues match ahead of Aaron Carroll.
The only other alteration comes in the second row, where Gerard Cowley-Tuioti comes in for the impressive Josh Goodhue, who joins a reserves bench that has three further new faces in the form of Karl Tu’inukuafe, Sam Nock and Harry Plummer.
“We have always said that we have brought Beauden to the Blues to run the cutter but after the season-ending injury to Stephen Perofeta, it forced a rethink,” MacDonald said of his side.
“He was our best option for fullback with the luxury have having another outstanding No 10 in Otere Black.
“With Otere carrying a slight injury, then we’ve moved Beauden to No. 10 and I am sure he is looking forward to that challenge, while Matt Duffie was good when he came on at fullback.
“We are pleased to have Blake back on the field. He is key part to our loose forward mix both defensively and with ball in hand and I am sure the team want him to enjoy his 50th game with a strong performance.”
MacDonald added that the Chiefs, who are yet to win a game in Super Rugby Aotearoa, aren’t a team that should be underestimated.
“We know the Chiefs are much better than their results and will bring everything to this match as they always do. There’s everything to play for and we are excited to be home at Eden Park in front of a big crowd of fans on Sunday.”
The Blues team is: 15 Matt Duffie, 14 Mark Telea, 13 Rieko Ioane, 12 TJ Faiane, 11 Caleb Clarke, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 Finlay Christie; 8 Akira Ioane, 7 Dalton Papalii, 6 Blake Gibson, 5 Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, 4 Patrick Tuipulotu ©, 3 Ofa Tuungafasi, 2 Kurt Eklund, 1 Alex Hodgman.
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