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Moana Pasifika name team for Super Rugby Pacific debut against Crusaders

By Alex McLeod
Photo: Brett Phibbs / www.photosport.nz

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Moana Pasifika has named its side for its Super Rugby Pacific debut against the Crusaders at Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin on Friday.

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After two postponed fixtures against the Blues and Chiefs due to a Covid outbreak within their squad, the new expansion franchise will finally begin its Super Rugby Pacific journey this weekend.

It will do so with 11 players who will be making their Super Rugby debuts, seven of whom have been named to start by head coach Aaron Mauger.

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Four of the rookies have been included in the forward pack, where lock partners Mike McKee and Manu Samoa international Sam Slade form an uncapped second row pairing.

The back row also has a fresh feel to it as ‘Ikale Tahi blindside flanker Solomone Funaki will join Manu Samoa openside Alamanda Motuga in making his first appearance at Super Rugby level.

That inexperience is balanced out by the inclusion of captain and Wallabies centurion Sekope Kepu, who has been named to start in a front row that also features former Blues and Chiefs loosehead prop Ezekiel Lindenmuth and ex-Blues hooker Luteru Tolai.

Manu Samoa and former Western Force No 8 Henry Time-Stowers rounds out the forward pack, while three debutants have named in Moana Pasifika’s starting backline.

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One of those is promising first-five Lincoln McClutchie, who has long been touted as a player with high potential but will only now make his first foray into Super Rugby after having impressed in the NPC for Hawke’s Bay.

The 22-year-old will pair up with provincial teammate and former Crusaders halfback Ereatara Enari, while the midfield is filled by ex-Hurricanes youngster Danny Toala and former Blues and Chiefs powerhouse Levi Aumua.

The only other debutants in the starting lineup is fullback William Havili, the younger brother of All Blacks utility David, and Manu Samoa wing Neria Foma’i, both of whom join ex-Crusaders and Highlanders wing Tima Fainga’anuku in the outside backs.

Friday’s match will be a family affair for Fainga’anuku, who will face younger brother Leicester, the Crusaders starlet who has been named to play at centre by the Christchurch-based outfit.

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A further four Super Rugby debutants are included in the reserves in the form of ‘Ikale Tahi duo Sam Moli – younger brother of All Blacks prop Atu – and Fine Inisi, Hong Kong prop Tau Koloamatangi and lock Alex McRobbie.

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They are joined on the bench by former Wallabies pivot Christian Leali’ifano, veteran Manu Samoa and ex-Hurricanes flanker Jack Lam, former Chiefs prop Joe Apikotoa, and Manu Samoa and ex-Chiefs and Hurricanes halfback Jonathan Taumateine.

Loosehead prop Isi Tu’ungafasi, outside back Lolagi Visinia, locks Don Lolo and Penitoa Finau, loose forward Lotu Inisi, and utility back Solomone Kata were all deemed unavailable for selection due to injury.

“This has been 26 years in the making and after recent challenges, it’s good to finally be here,” Mauger said in a statement released on Wednesday.

“For many it will be their debut and significantly they are getting the opportunity to take to the field and compete, when perhaps an opportunity wouldn’t be available. It will be a very special occasion for them, their families and wider Pacific community.”

Kick-off for Friday’s match is scheduled for 7:05pm.

Moana Pasifika team to play the Crusaders

1. Ezekiel Lindenmuth
2. Luteru Tolai
3. Sekope Kepu (c)
4. Mike McKee
5. Sam Slade
6. Solomone Funaki
7. Alamanda Motuga
8. Henry Time-Stowers
9. Ereatara Enari
10. Lincoln McClutchie
11. Neria Foma’i
12. Danny Toala
13. Levi Aumua
14. Tima Fainga’anuku
15. William Havili

Reserves

16. Sam Moli
17. Tau Koloamatangi
18. Joe Apikotoa
19. Alex McRobbie
20. Jack Lam
21. Jonathan Taumateine
22. Christian Leali’ifano
23. Fine Inisi

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