Blues bench All Black for Brumbies semi-final battle
With the Brumbies boasting one of the best set-pieces in the competition, head coach Leon MacDonald has seen fit to change up his tight five for this weekend’s showdown at Eden Park, rotating out two of the Blues’ best performers for the season.
Tighthead prop Ofa Tuungafasi and second-rower James Tucker will make way for Nepo Laulala and Josh Goodhue while an injury suffered by Bryce Heem in the early stages of last weekend’s win over the Highlanders has seen AJ Lam promoted into the No 14 jersey.
Laulala and Goodhue boast almost 150 Super Rugby caps between them and will ensure there’s still plenty of experience in the Blues pack despite Tuungafasi and Tucker shifting to the pine. The new additions to the forward pack were both regular starters for the Blues at the beginning of the season but Tuungafasi took over as the team’s first-choice tighthead as the year progressed and Goodhue found himself sidelined due to injury.
Lam’s promotion, meanwhile, is a case of rewarding a young player who’s found a rich vein of form in recent weeks.
“I thought he was brilliant,” McDonald said of the 23-year-old. “He competed really well in the air, he defended well, he was physical, he was able to shrug a few tackles and get over the gain line for us.
“The game against the Waratahs gave him some extra minutes and a few guys were able to come [into this match] on the back of that game come into the squad and do a good job for us.”
Laulala will pack down alongside Alex Hodgman and Kurt Eklund in the front row while Goodhue partners up with Tom Robinson to round out the tight five. With Dalton Papalii still unavailable following an appendectomy last week, the newly re-signed Adrian Choat will again team up with Akira Ioane and Hoskins Sotutu in the loose forwards.
In the backs, Finlay Christie and Beauden Barrett form an All Blacks halves combination alongside gun midfielders Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and Rieko Ioane. Lam joins left winger Mark Telea and fullback Stephen Perofeta to round out the starting line-up.
Last week’s reserves are retained for the semi-final, with midfielder Tamati Tua coming into the squad to fill Lam’s vacant spot in the No 22 jersey.
The semi-final fixture between the Blues and Brumbies will kick off at 7:05pm on Saturday evening from Eden Park in Auckland.
Blues: 15. Stephen Perofeta, 14. Mark Telea, 13. Rieko Ioane, 12. Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, 11. AJ Lam, 10. Beauden Barrett, 9. Finlay Christie, 8. Hoskins Sotutu, 7. Adrian Choat, 6. Akira Ioane, 5. Tom Robinson, 4. Josh Goodhue, 3. Nepo Laulala, 2. Kurt Eklund, 1. Alex Hodgman. Reserves: 16. Soane Vikena, 17. Karl Tu’inukuafe, 18. Ofa Tuungafasi, 19. Luke Romano, 20. James Tucker, 21. Sam Nock, 22. Tamati Tua, 23. Zarn Sullivan.
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