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Just one player retained in starting Blues team to play Moana Pasifika

By Alex McLeod
(Photo by Joe Allison/Getty Images)

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Only one player has been retained in the Blues starting lineup to face Moana Pasifika at Mt Smart Stadium in Auckland on Tuesday.

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In-form wing Mark Telea is the only member of Leon MacDonald’s squad that has kept his place in the run-on XV following the Blues’ 32-25 Super Rugby Pacific win over the Highlanders in Dunedin on Saturday.

The remainder of the starting lineup has been overhauled, with MacDonald filling his team with youngsters and rookies.

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World Cup-winning former All Blacks lock Luke Romano will captain the side, which features four debutants on the bench and eight players in the starting team with 10 Super Rugby caps or fewer.

All Blacks props Alex Hodgman and Nepo Laulala will anchor the scrum after coming into the starting side in place of Ofa Tu’ungafasi and Marcel Renata, while new recruit Ricky Riccitelli replaces Kurt Eklund at hooker.

Young lock Sam Darry partners Romano in the second row, with the duo replacing James Tucker and Jack Goodhue.

Taine Plumtree returns to the No 6 jersey after his impressive two-try showing against the Highlanders in Albany more than a fortnight ago.

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He forms a new-look loose forward trio comprised of former New Zealand U20 representative Adrian Choat at openside flanker rookie German-born star Anton Segner at No 8.

Together, Plumtree, Choat and Segner replace Tom Robinson, captain Dalton Papalii and Hoskins Sotutu, all of whom have been rested.

In the backline, exciting playmaker Stephen Perofeta comes into the No 10 jersey after his impressive cameo off the bench following a concerning head knock sustained by Beauden Barrett two days ago.

The 2021 Duane Monkley Medallist pairs up with rookie halfback Taufa Funaki, who takes the place of Sam Nock, in the halves.

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Last weekend’s midfield duo of Bryce Heem and Rieko Ioane have been replaced by young utility back Tanielu Tele’a, who lines up at second-five, and centre Tamati Tua, who makes his first appearance for the Blues since 2018.

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The starting team is rounded out by wing AJ Lam and fullback Jacob Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens, both of whom replace Caleb Clarke and Zarn Sullivan, respectively, and join Telea in the back three.

Meanwhile, on the bench, four players – prop Josh Fusitua, lock Cameron Suafoa, loose forward Vaioini Ekuasi and outside back Jock McKenzie – are all in line for their Super Rugby Pacific debuts.

McKenzie’s selection comes after he was also named in a New Zealand XI cricket squad to face the Netherlands earlier this month.

The bench also features All Blacks prop Karl Tu’inukuafe, who is in line to make his first appearance for the Blues this year after having missed the opening part of the season through injury.

Others included in the reserves are hooker Soan Vikena, All Blacks halfback Finlay Christie and 2021 New Zealand U20 representative Corey Evans.

“It is both a challenge and an exciting opportunity,” MacDonald said in a statement of the opportunity this week’s rare mid-week match, forced upon the Blues and Moana Pasifika by Covid-enforced postponements earlier in the season, presents for his side.

“The situation is simple. You can’t play your most experienced players three times in eight days. It may not be ideal but we just get on with it.

“The exciting thing for me is that we get the opportunity to give valuable game time for some players who have not seen many minutes, and more than that, we have the chance to provide opportunity for some of our really bright young players who have come through the Blues development system.

“Both teams have a number of players who have emerged through the Blues Under-18 and Under-20 programmes. We are taking the positive here and really looking forward to it.”

Kick-off for Tuesday’s match, Auckland’s first cross-town derby in Super Rugby Pacific history, is scheduled for 7:05pm.

Blues team to face Moana Pasifika

1. Alex Hodgman
2. Ricky Riccitelli
3. Nepo Laulala
4. Luke Romano (c)
5. Sam Darry
6. Taine Plumtree
7. Adrian Choat
8. Anton Segner
9. Taufa Funaki
10. Stephen Perofeta
11. AJ Lam
12. Tanielu Tele’a
13. Tamati Tua
14. Mark Telea
15. Jacob Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens

Reserves

16. Soane Vikena
17. Josh Fusitua
18. Karl Tu’inukuafe
19. Cameron Suafoa
20. Vaiolini Ekuasi
21. Finlay Christie
22. Corey Evans
23. Jock McKenzie

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