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Super Rugby 2020 kicks off with a bang this Friday with New Zeland’s perennial cellar-dwellers from recent times, the Blues, hosting the Chiefs – who have made the playoffs without fail in the last eight years.
The Chiefs were set to unleash Damian McKenzie from fullback for the first time since last April when the All Black ruptured his ACL against the Blues in Hamilton. A stroke of bad luck (or excellent luck, if you’re looking at it from the point of view of the Blues) has seen McKenzie invalided from the match due to a strained abductor muscle.
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Still, both sides have plenty of firepower on offer with seven current or former internationals lining up for the Blues and eight for the Chiefs.
The experience on the Chiefs bench could prove crucial to the match result, with Atu Moli, Angus Ta’avao, Brad Weber, Aaron Cruden and Anton Lienert-Brown all set to make an impact in the second half.
Cruden will be particularly excited to take the field, having last represented the Chiefs in 2017.
Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi was firmly entrenched as the @AllBlacks' third halfback in 2018 then everything went south a year later. Triple T spoke to @TomVinicombe ahead of the new #SuperRugby season. https://t.co/pYyY5iVRGn @ChiefsRugby
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) January 30, 2020
Six debutants have been named for the Blues, with Kurt Eklund, Mark Telea, USA Eagle Tony Lamborn and England representative Joe Marchant all starting for the Auckland franchise. For the Chiefs, Kaleb Trask and Quinn Tupaea will earn their first caps while Naitoa Ah Kuoi could debut off the bench.
Friday’s clash will be the Chiefs’ first under Warren Gatland and he will be desperate to preserve the Chiefs’ excellent record over the Blues in recent years. Just once since 2012 have the Blues tasted victory over their southern rivals – at Eden Park last year.
With both teams eager to stamp a mark early in the Super Rugby season, Friday night’s opening match of the year should be a cracker.
Blues: Matt Duffie, Mark Telea, Joe Marchant, TJ Faiane, Rieko Ioane, Stephen Perofeta, Jonathan Ruru, Hoskins Sotutu, Tony Lamborn, Dalton Papalii, Tom Robinson, Patrick Tuipulotu (c), Sione Mafileo, Kurt Eklund, Alex Hodgman. Reserves: Ray Niuia, Karl Tu’inukuafe, Ofa Tu’ungafasi, Josh Goodhue, Blake Gibson, Sam Nock, Harry Plummer, Emoni Narawa.
Chiefs: Shaun Stevenson, Sean Wainui, Quinn Tupaea, Alex Nankivell, Solomon Alaimalo, Kaleb Trask, Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, Sam Cane (c), Mitchell Karpik, Lachlan Boshier, Mitchell Brown, Tyler Ardron, Nepo Laulala, Samisoni Taukei’aho, Aidan Ross. Reserves: Bradley Slater, Atu Moli, Angus Ta’avao, Naitoa Ah Kuoi, Pita Gus Sowakula, Brad Weber, Aaron Cruden, Anton Lienert-Brown.
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