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‘Key’ trio return as Blues look to wrap up top spot against Chiefs

By Finn Morton
Caleb Clarke of the Blues looks on ahead of the round nine Super Rugby Pacific match between Blues and ACT Brumbies at Eden Park, on April 20, 2024, in Auckland, New Zealand. (Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

Blues coach Vern Cotter has welcomed some “key” players back into the matchday squad as the ladder leaders prepare for a decisive Battle of the Bombays against the Chiefs on Saturday.

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While the Hurricanes are equal on competition points with the Blues on the Super Rugby Pacific standings, the Auckland-based side has a clear advantage with a substantially better points differential.

The first tie-breaker when teams are equal on points on the ladder is the total number of wins, but those two Kiwi teams have 11 victories to their name so far. If they’re both still tied after round 15, then points difference is the deciding factor.

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It’s no secret that securing top spot could prove crucial by the time the playoffs get underway, so this weekend’s clash with New Zealand rivals the Chiefs at Eden Park “has the potential for real fireworks.”

Rugby World Cup finalist Finlay Christie is in line to return from a niggly groin injury after being named on the bench. Christie hasn’t played since starting in a win over Moana Pasifika in round six back in March.

All Blacks Dalton Papali’i and Caleb Clarke are also set to start for the Blues after missing the round 14 defeat to a resurgent Crusaders outfit at Christchurch’s Apollo Projects Stadium.

“We’re happy to welcome a couple of key boys back this week in Caleb, Dalton and Fin,” coach Vern Cotter said in a statement.

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“They’ve ben bouncing around the facility all week and can’t wait to rip in on Saturday.”

Prop Marcel Renata will play his 50th match for the Blues after being named to start at tighthead prop. Renata joins in-form Ofa Tu’ungafasi and Ricky Riccitelli in a strong front row.

Patrick Tuipulotu will pack down alongside Sam Darry in the middle row, while the star-studded backrow trio of Akira Ioane, Dalton Papali’i and Hoskins Sotutu round out a lethal Blues forward pack.

Head-to-Head

Last 5 Meetings

Wins
4
Draws
0
Wins
1
Average Points scored
26
16
First try wins
80%
Home team wins
80%

Taufa Funaki will partner playmaker Harry Plummer in the halves once again, with AJ Lam and Rieko Ioane just outside them in the midfield.

All Black Caleb Clarke will line up on the left wing, and Mark Tele’a will start on the right. Stephen Perofeta will provide another playmaking option for the Blues after being named at fullback for another match.

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“Our performance wasn’t good enough last week, we know that, we’ve talked about it and we aim to improve it against the Chiefs,” Cotter explained.

“This game is crucial in determining the playoff standings – I would be encouraging anyone in the Blues region to head along on Saturday night, this game has the potential for real fireworks.”

 This match at Auckland’s Eden Park is set to get underway at 7.05 pm NZT on Saturday evening. With the Hurricanes playing earlier that day, the Blues will know what they need to do to secure top spot.

Blues team to take on Chiefs

  1. Ofa Tu’ungafasi
  2. Ricky Riccitelli
  3. Marcel Renata (50th Blues cap)
  4. Patrick Tuipulotu
  5. Sam Darry
  6. Akira Ioane
  7. Dalton Papali’i
  8. Hoskins Sotutu
  9. Taufa Funaki
  10. Harry Plummer
  11. Caleb Clarke
  12. AJ Lam
  13. Rieko Ioane
  14. Mark Tele’a
  15. Stephen Perofeta

Replacements

  1. Kurt Eklund
  2. Joshua Fusitu’a
  3. Angus Ta’avao
  4. Cameron Suafoa
  5. Adrian Choat
  6. Finlay Christie
  7. Corey Evans
  8. Cole Forbes

Players not considered: Lucas Cashmore, Bryce Heem, Jordan Lay, Laghlan McWhannell, Zarn Sullivan

Watch the exclusive reveal-all episode of Walk the Talk with Ardie Savea as he chats to Jim Hamilton about the RWC 2023 experience, life in Japan, playing for the All Blacks and what the future holds. Watch now for free on RugbyPass TV

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