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Beauden Barrett named to start for Blues against Highlanders

By Alex McLeod
(Photo by Dave Rowland/Getty Images)

Blues star Beauden Barrett will make his first start for the franchise in two years after being named at No 10 for his side’s clash against the Highlanders in Albany on Friday.

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Barrett overcame a concussion issue that plagued him over the course of the off-season to feature off the bench for the Blues in their 24-22 win over the Chiefs at Eden Park in Auckland last week.

It was the two-time World Rugby Player of the Year’s first outing for the franchise since 2020 after having skipped last year’s title-winning season to play for Suntory Sungoliath in Japan’s Top League.

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Now, following a shoulder injury to Harry Plummer, Barrett has been named to start for the Blues in one of four changes to the starting lineup made by head coach Leon MacDonald.

One of the other changes to MacDonald’s side has been necessitated by another shoulder injury, this time to star recruit Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, who has been replaced at second-five by Bryce Heem.

MacDonald said in a statement on Wednesday that both Plummer and Tuivasa-Sheck will be sidelined for “several weeks”, but outlined that Barrett and Heem stood as more than capable replacements.

“Despite being out of the game for a while, Beauden slotted back in as we know he can,” MacDonald said.

“Bryce has had a niggling injury that delayed his start. He was one of our key players last year, and while he played on the wing, he has plenty of experience in the midfield both for me at Tasman and in Europe. His experience and physicality are key factors.”

Meanwhile, in the forward pack, lock Sam Darry and blindside flanker Taine Plumtree have both come into the starting side for the first time this season as incumbents Josh Goodhue and Tom Robinson are handed rests.

Darry’s promotion from the bench to the starting team means uncapped Blues lock James Tucker has been added to the reserves for a potential debut.

“Josh has been beaten up in two outstanding efforts and Tom is batting an ankle injury that has hampered him.

“Sam Darry and Taine Plumtree are two young guys who both had outstanding NPC campaigns, and are itching for their opportunity,” MacDonald said.

“It means that James Tucker, another player who was terrific in the NPC, has the potential for his first cap for the Blues after an injury in pre-season meant he never got to play for us a few years back.”

Only two further changes have been made on the bench, with young hooker Soane Vikena replacing Ricky Riccitelli in the No 16 jersey, while Tanielu Tele’a joins the reserves at the expense of AJ Lam.

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With all those alterations in mind, MacDonald is hoping for a more complete performance from his side after they were fortunate to avoid defeat at the death against the Chiefs, who squandered a chance to steal the game in injury time via a missed penalty.

“We played quite well against the Hurricanes and lost but we played indifferently last week and got the win. It shows that you can’t control the outcome, but you can control performance,” the Blues boss said.

“We are looking for quantum improvement across the board – better quality possession, better handling, more consistent defensive effort and better decision-making. Most of all, we are looking for a more aggressive, physical and quality performance.”

Kick-off for Friday’s match at North Harbour Stadium is scheduled for 7:05pm.

Blues team to face Highlanders

1.Alex Hodgman
2. Kurt Eklund
3. Nepo Laulala
4. Luke Romano
5. Sam Darry
6. Taine Plumtree
7. Dalton Papalii (c)
8. Hoskins Sotutu
9. Finlay Christie
10. Beauden Barrett
11. Caleb Clarke
12. Bryce Heem
13. Rieko Ioane
14. Mark Telea
15. Stephen Perofeta

Reserves

16. Soane Vikena
17. Ofa Tuungafasi
18. Marcel Renata
19. James Tucker
20. Adrian Choat
21. Sam Nock
22. Tanielu Tele’a
23. Zarn Sullivan

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Poorfour 10 hours ago
The AI advantage: How the next two Rugby World Cups will be won

AI models are really just larger and less transparent variants of the statistical models that have been in use since Moneyball was invented. And a big difference between the Icahn centre’s results and AI today is that ChatGPT-like Large Language Models can explain (to some degree) how they reached their conclusions. In terms of what impact they will have, I suspect it will have two primary impacts: 1) It will place a premium on coaching creativity 2) It will lead to more selections that baffle fans and pundits. Analysts will be able to run the models both ways: they will see their own team’s and players’ weaknesses and strengths as well as the opposition’s. So they will have a good idea at what the other team will be targeting and the decisive difference may well be which coaches are smart enough to think of a gameplan that the other side didn’t identify and prepare for. For players, it places a premium on three key things: 1) Having a relatively complete game with no major weaknesses (or the dedication to work on eliminating them) 2) Having the tactical flexibility to play a different game every week 3) Having a point of difference that is so compelling that there isn’t a defence for it. (3) is relatively rare even among pro players. There have been only a handful of players over the years where you knew what they were going to do and the problem was stopping it - Lomu would be the classic example. And even when someone does have that, it’s hard to sustain. Billy Vunipola in his prime was very hard to stop, but fell away quite badly when the toll on his body began to accumulate. So coaches will look for (1) - a lack of exploitable weaknesses - and (2) - the ability to exploit others’ weaknesses - ahead of hoping for (3), at least for the majority of the pack. Which is likely to mean that, as with the original Moneyball, competent, unshowy players who do the stuff that wins matches will win out over outrageous talents who can’t adapt to cover their own weaknesses. Which will leave a lot of people on the sidelines sputtering over the non-inclusion of players whose highlights reels are spectacular, but whose lowlight reels have been uncovered by AI… at least until the point where every fan has access to a sporting analysis AI.

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