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Hoskins Sotutu returns as one of three All Blacks tweaks to Blues forward pack

By Tom Vinicombe

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Blues coach Leon MacDonald has named a settled team for his side’s final regular-season match of Super Rugby Trans-Tasman against the Western Force.

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There are just three changes to the starting lineup, all in the forward pack.

Hoskins Sotutu, who debuted in the All Blacks last season, has been elevated back into the starting team at number 8 in place of fellow NZ representative Akira Ioane who drops to the bench.

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Sotutu has missed just one game for the Blues this year and was also benched for last weekend’s clash with the Reds. Ioane, meanwhile, has featured in every single game for the Auckland franchise in 2021, either in the starting lineup or from the reserves.

The other two changes come in the front row with the All Blacks pairing of Alex Hodgman and Nepo Lauala taking the places of Karl Tu’inukuafe and Ofa Tuungafasi.

Tuungafasi continues to deal with a troubling knee issue which also saw him miss the Blues’ win over the Brumbies two weeks ago.

The backline remains unchanged while there are also few adjustments to the substitutes.

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Former Highlander and current Samoa representative Ray Niuia – who played for the Blues in the opening game of the 2020 season but hasn’t featured since after rupturing his ACL in that fixture – takes the reserve hooker role off Under 20s star Soane Vikena while prop Marcel Renata will back up Laulala at tighthead prop.

There’s also a return for Joshua Goodhue, fully fit after injuring his foot against the Brumbies.

A win with a bonus point will confirm a home final for the Blues, while a win without scoring three more tries than their opposition could likely mean a calculation of points for and against will decide the Trans-Tasman finalists.

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The Blues go into the final round one point ahead of the chasing pack and with a healthy points differential over the in their favour over the Highlanders and Crusaders as they face an impressive Western Force squad.

None of this will factor into the side’s thinking this week, according to coach MacDonald.

“We have approached this competition by never getting ahead of ourselves. We have focussed on doing the basics well, playing at the right end of the field and defending with equal parts of aggression, pride and accuracy,” he said.

“When we have front-foot ball in the right parts of the field, then that has given our ball-runners options and opportunity.

“We know we are in unchartered waters for this group of men, but we will be stressing that we keep on doing what has been working for us. Keep it simple, be smart, work hard and believe in eachother. Do that and good things should happen.

“We will hope to have a big band of Blues fans on hand at Eden Park to help us Bring it Blue.”

The Blues kick off their match with the Force at 7:05pm NZT.

Blues: Zarn Sullivan, Bryce Heem, Rieko Ioane, TJ Faiane, Mark Telea, Otere Black, Finlay Christie, Hoskins Sotutu, Dalton Papalii, Tom Robinson, Patrick Tuipulotu, Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, Nepo Laulala, Kurt Eklund, Alex Hodgman. Reserves: Ray Niuia, Karl Tu’inukuafe, Marcel Renata, Joshua Goodhue, Akira Ioane, Jonathan Ruru, Harry Plummer, AJ Lam.

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Hoskins Sotutu returns as one of three All Blacks tweaks to Blues forward pack

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