LIVE: Blues vs Chiefs | Super Rugby Aotearoa
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Star Blues playmaker Beauden Barrett will start at No. 10 for the first time in nearly a year after being named to start at first-five for his side’s clash against the Chiefs.
The match comes 324 days after Barrett’s last outing in his preferred position when he donned the No. 10 jersey for the All Blacks in their 92-7 victory over Tonga ahead of last year’s World Cup.
Since then, the two-time World Rugby Player of the Year has been used exclusively at No. 15 for both the All Blacks and the Blues, with both teams opting for a dual-playmaking axis between first-five and fullback.
The selection of Barrett in the backfield has come under scrutiny in recent times, however, especially with the Blues falling to two consecutive losses to the Crusaders and Hurricanes over the past fortnight.
As such, Blues head coach Leon MacDonald has now opted to reinstate his marquee player back into the No. 10 jersey, less than a week after Barrett voiced his preference to play there rather than at fullback.
The positional shift comes after regular picot Otere Black was taken from the field last week following a collision with Hurricanes wing Ben Lam that resulted in a neck injury that required a hospital visit last week.
Black since been demoted to the bench for this week’s encounter with the last-placed Chiefs at Eden Park, but will have to emerge from Friday’s contact session unscathed if he is to be deemed fit to play on Sunday.
If he can’t manage that, exciting youngster Emoni Narawa, who started on the right wing last week, will take his place in the No. 22 jersey.
Narawa’s place in the starting side has been taken by breakout star Mark Telea, who has swapped wings to accomodate for the return of the in-form Caleb Clarke after he missed the Hurricanes clash to attend his grandfather’s funeral.
The duo help form a new-look back three that features one-time All Black Matt Duffie as Barrett’s replacement at fullback.
In the forward pack, experienced flanker Blake Gibson is named to start at blindside flanker for his 50th Blues match ahead of Aaron Carroll.
The only other alteration comes in the second row, where Gerard Cowley-Tuioti comes in for the impressive Josh Goodhue, who joins a reserves bench that has three further new faces in the form of Karl Tu’inukuafe, Sam Nock and Harry Plummer.
As for the Chiefs, the big news is that former All Blacks loose forward Adam Thomson is primed to make his 100th Super Rugby appearance this weekend after being named on the bench.
Pressure has subsequently mounted on head coach Warren Gatland, but that hasn’t forced him into making a raft of changes leading into his side’s bout with their northern rivals.
Despite blowing a two 24-point leads against the Highlanders in Hamilton last week, Gatland has made just three changes to his team, with the only alteration in the starting side coming at loosehead prop.
2018 All Blacks tourist Reuben O’Neill comes into the team for just his ninth appearance for the franchise, replacing Aidan Ross, who picked up at calf strain in the 33-31 defeat at FMG Stadium Waikato last week.
The other two changes are in the reserves, with young prop Ollie Norris vacating O’Neill’s place on the bench, while three-test All Blacks halfback Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi makes way for Lisati Milo-Harris in the No. 21 jersey.
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