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Blues stars return to starting XV for ‘exciting’ Crusaders clash

By Finn Morton
Rieko Ioane in action for the Blues. Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images

The Blues have included several All Blacks in their starting XV for their highly anticipated clash with the champion Crusaders in Christchurch on Saturday.

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After losing to the defending Super Rugby Pacific champions 34-28 at Eden Park in round four, Blues coach Leon MacDonald has named a star studded side for the round 12 clash.

All Blacks Beauden Barrett, Rieko Ioane and Mark Telea are all set to reclaim their spots in the run-on XV this week, while Patrick Tuipulotu and Hoskins Sotutu will line up in the forwards.

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Hooker Ricky Riccitelli and flanker Adria Choat have also been named. But the Blues have left All Blacks midfield Roger Tuivasa-Sheck out of the matchday 23.

As coach Leon MacDonald discussed, the playoff race for a top four spot is getting “hot” – and this match will have a major say on the regular season.

The Blues, who are currently third on the ladder, will travel south to take on the competitions fourth-ranked side at Orangetheory Stadium.

“The stats suggest we’re going to see an exciting game of rugby and as the playoff race starts to get hot, all teams in the top four mix know the value of home advantage in the first week of the playoffs,” MacDonald said in a statement.

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“A win on Saturday will keep us right in the mix for that top four.”

All Black Ofa Tu’ungafasi will take his place in the front row this week alongside Riccitelli and prop Marcel Renata. Locks Patrick Tuipulotu and Sam Darry round out the tight five.

Adrian Choat, Dalton Papali’i and Hoskins Sotutu make up the backrow trio for the Blues, and the backline speaks for itself.

Led by halves duo Finlay Christie and Beauden Barrett, the Blues have five All Blacks in their backline – with the experienced Harry Plummer and in-form outside Zarn Sullivan the two exceptions.

As for the bench, All Black Akira Ioane is in line for 100th match in Blues colours this weekend.

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“Aki’s a true soldier for us and has been for many years. He’s the type of player you want next to you going into battle and it’s been a privilege to share a changing room with him over the years,” captain Dalton Papali’i said.

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“We know what we’re walking into down in Christchurch – it’s going to be physical. We know what it takes to win down there, and we can take confidence in the fact that we’ve done it before.”

Echoing the captains’ comments, MacDonald also congratulated “Aki” on the milestone.

“I want to congratulate Aki on reaching his 100-game milestone – a serious achievement and testament to the fact he’s kept his fitness and body in good order over many season,” MacDonald said in a statement.

“He showed his value last weekend against Moana Pasifika and we’ll be looking to him for impact down in Christchurch.

“His ball playing skills are well-documented and he often finds an offload where others can’t.

Blues team to take on Crusaders

  1. Ofa Tu’ungafasi
  2. Ricky Riccitelli
  3. Marcel Renata
  4. Patrick Tuipulotu
  5. Sam Darry
  6. Adrian Choat
  7. Dalton Papali’i
  8. Hoskins Sotutu
  9. Finlay Christie
  10. Beauden Barrett
  11. Caleb Clarke
  12. Harry Plummer
  13. Rieko Ioane
  14. Mark Telea
  15. Zarn Sullivan

Replacements:

  1. Kurt Eklund
  2. Jordan Lay
  3. James Lay
  4. Cam Suafoa
  5. Akira Ioane
  6. Sam Nock
  7. Bryce Heem
  8. AJ Lam

Not considered: Alex Hodgman, Nepo Laulala, Stephen Perofeta, Tanielu Telea

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