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Blues' milestone man Patrick Tuipulotu returns from injury to face Crusaders

By Finn Morton
Patrick Tuipulotu of the Blues warms up ahead of the round six Super Rugby Pacific match between Chiefs and Blues at FMG Stadium Waikato, on April 01, 2023, in Hamilton, New Zealand. (Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

Captain Patrick Tuipulotu will reach a century of Blues appearances on Saturday evening when the lock returns from an injury layoff to take on the Crusaders at Eden Park.

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Tuipulotu, 31, suffered a fracture to his jaw during the Blues’ pre-season win over Tokyo Sungoliath in Japan during pre-season and has been out of action since.

All Blacks and Blues flanker Dalton Papali’i has served as the team’s skipper in Tuipulotu’s absence but normal duties will resume in a blockbuster New Zealand derby in round five.

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Following a seven-week stint on the sidelines, Tuipulotu is set for a milestone appearance against one of the Blues’ traditional rivals in what will be his 100th game for the club.

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“This is the club I love and grew up watching as a kid, it will be an honour to run out with the boys for my 100th game on Saturday night,” Tuipulotu said in a statement.

“To come back after an injury lay-off and be able to launch straight into the Crusaders is awesome. It’s going to be physical, it’s going to be tough and we know they’re coming to Eden Park to spoil the party.

“We’re leaving no stone unturned at training this week, make no mistake this is a big game for us and our fans.”

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The Blues, who are currently fourth on the Super Rugby Pacific ladder, will look to make it two wins from as many games after getting of the Waratahs in Sydney last weekend.

It was a return to winning ways for the Aucklanders after suffering their first loss of the season just a week before against the still-undefeated Hurricanes in Wellington.

But their next challenge is an exciting one with the Blues set to play their first home game of the season against New Zealand rivals the Crusaders.

“Paddy is a special character to have around our group, he holds a lot of mana and is a Blues man through and through. He should be proud of reaching his 100-game milestone for the club,” Cotter explained.

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“I hope our fans can come along on Saturday night and help celebrate Paddy’s milestone, but also welcome their team back to Eden Park – there’s nothing like a boisterous home crowd to give you that extra lift for a big match.

“There were a few things we needed to address this week, a few areas to tighten up to make sure we’re improving our performance week on week,” Cotter added about their upcoming fixture against the winless Crusaders.

“There are no easy games in this competition, and we know the Crusaders are a good side and have been for many years. In all honesty, this week has been about us and our own improvement, naturally there’s been a buzz around Blues HQ as we prepare to take on our old rivals on our home turf – we can’t wait.”

There are five changes to the Blues starting side this week, including the notable absence of centre Rieko Ioane who left the field only a couple of minutes into the win over the Waratahs at Sydney’s Allianz Stadium.

In the forwards, Super Rugby winner Ricky Riccitelli replaces Kurt Eklund in the First XV along with All Blacks prop Angus Ta’avao.

Captain Tuipulotu joins Laghlan McWhannell in a completely different second row pairing while the rest of the starting side remains unchanged.

The Blues take on the Crusaders at Auckland’s Eden Park at 7.05 pm NZT on Saturday evening.

Blues team to take on Crusaders

  1. Ofa Tu’ungafasi
  2. Ricky Riccitelli
  3. Angus Ta’avao
  4. Patrick Tuipulotu (c)
  5. Laghlan McWhannell
  6. Akira Ioane
  7. Dalton Papali’i
  8. Hoskins Sotutu
  9. Finlay Christie
  10. Stephen Perofeta
  11. Caleb Clarke
  12. Bryce Heem
  13. AJ Lam
  14. Mark Tele’a
  15. Zarn Sullivan

Reserves

  1. Kurt Eklund
  2. Joshua Fusitu’a
  3. Marcel Renata
  4. Josh Beehre
  5. Adrian Choat
  6. Taufa Funaki
  7. Harry Plummer
  8. Cole Forbes
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