On Saturday night the All Blacks will take on the Wallabies for the first time this year. 23 men will run out to try secure the Bledisloe Cup for the 17th year in a row – but they’re not the only All Blacks you’ll find on show this weekend.
Last night, 2019’s edition of the Mitre 10 Cup kicked off down in Invercargil, with Southland taking on Northland. The hosts, who were on a 21-match losing streak, snuck out to build a small lead but the visitors ultimately emerged victorious.
Whilst there were a few Super Rugby players on display for the ‘lands, such as Chiefs first fives Jack Debreczeni and Marty McKenzie, the well-known faces will be coming out in droves over Friday and Saturday – including a number of past, present and future All Blacks.
First up is the Battle of the Bridge, which sees Auckland host North Harbour. Last year’s defending champions have rolled out a strong lineup, including Blues regulars Tanielu Tele’a, TJ Faiane, Caleb Clarke, Harry Plummer, Jonathan Ruru and Blake Gibson. Hurricanes flyer Salesi Rayasi will also run out in the fullback jersey.
It’s the match’s underdogs who will have the All Blacks on their books, however. Karl Tu’inukuafe, Matt Duffie and Dillon Hunt will all start for North Harbour. Tu’inukuafe will fancy his chances at still making the World Cup squad – even if the odds aren’t in his favour. Tonight’s match will be his first game since the 10th of May. Duffie has run out for New Zealand twice, but both matches (against the Barbarians and a French XV) were uncapped. Hunt has also made two appearances for the All Blacks. His debut came in the uncapped match against the French XV in 2017, whilst he made his first test appearance against Japan last year.
Tasman will field an exceptionally talented team on Saturday afternoon for their match with Wellington. All Blacks David Havili, Liam Squire, Shannon Frizell and Tyrel Lomax will all take the field for the Mako. Squire took his name out of the selection equation earlier in the year when he decided he wasn’t ready for international football. With a few games to play before the World Cup squad is announced, could Squire still come into the picture?
Other players to watch include Will Jordan, who was tipped to make the All Blacks this year but didn’t quite log enough game time and blindside flanker Ethan Blackadder.
Wellington don’t have any All Blacks available for selection at this point in the season, but their side is still stacked with Super Rugby talent. Wes Goosen, Ben Lam, captain Du’Plessis Kirifi and lock James Blackwell all played major roles in the Hurricanes run to the semi-finals.
The late afternoon game on Saturday sees Taranaki travel to Counties Manukau. If 8000 fans turn out at the match in Pukekohe then the remainder of the Steelers’ home games will have free entry – and the talent on display should get fans along in droves.
Counties have current All Blacks midfielder Sonny Bill Williams to call on. Left wing Etene Nanai-Seturo showed plenty of promise for the Chiefs this year and was one of the New Zealand U20’s best performers earlier this season.
Taranaki have named out-of-favour All Blacks wing Waisake Naholo on their right wing – his clash with Nanai-Seturo is one to savour. Waisake’s younger brother, Kini, will come off the bench. Te Torioa Tahuriorangi will also be itching for game time after spending most of the season camped behind Brad Weber at the Chiefs. Weber has now taken Tahuriorangi’s spot in the All Blacks. Reuben O’Neill is also on track to make his first appearance since being named in last year’s end of year All Blacks tour squad.
Saturday’s final match sees last year’s championship winners host last year’s premiership finalists. Canterbury will travel to Hamilton to take on Waikato in what promises to be an excellent game.
Cantebury will call upon All Blacks Brett Cameron, Mitchell Drummond, Luke Whitelock and Luke Romano. The former three all featured for New Zealand last year, whilst Romano notched up over 30 caps between 2012 and 2017.
Waikato don’t have quite the same calibre of players to call upon – but there’s plenty of potential amongst their ranks. Their only available international is Apisai Naikatani, who’s made 18 appearances for Fiji. U20 stars Rivez Reihana, Ollie Norris and Simon Parker could all make their debuts off the bench however. Their midfield pairing of almost-centurion Dwayne Sweeney and up-and-comer Quinn Tupaea could do some damage to Canterbury – who could start U20 co-captain Dallas McLeod in the centres.
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