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Moana Pasifika set to overhaul side for Blues clash following landmark win

By Alex McLeod
(Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

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Moana Pasifika head coach Aaron Mauger has confirmed multiple changes will be made to his side when they face the Blues just four days after their first-ever Super Rugby Pacific win against the Hurricanes.

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The competition newcomers registered their first-ever victory when they beat the Hurricanes 24-19 in golden point extra-time at Mt Smart Stadium in Auckland on Friday.

Moana Pasifika’s players, coaches and fans alike were ecstatic and euphoric with the result, which was a major upset after the Covid uncertainty and heavy defeats they had endured in recent weeks.

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However, given the short turnaround they face before taking on the Blues in Auckland’s first-ever cross-town Super Rugby Pacific derby on Tuesday, few Moana Pasifika players who featured against the Hurricanes will take to the field in three days’ time.

That was the verdict delivered by Mauger while speaking to media after his team’s breakthrough win, which lifts them off the bottom of the Super Rugby Pacific table.

“We’ll use our squad over the next week,” Mauger said in the midst of a tough run of fixtures forced upon Moana Pasifika whereby they will play three matches in eight days following the Covid-enforced postponement of various matches earlier in the season.

“The guys that didn’t play today have been outstanding the last couple of days. Already looking forward to the Blues, we’ve sort of been running two squads.

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“It’s been a bit of a juggling act but we knew we had to do that and they’ve just been outstanding. They train really well.”

The decision to effectively train as two separate squads paid dividends against the Hurricanes when reserve halfback Ereatara Enari became a late withdrawal, resulting in a debut to youngster Manu Paea, who closed out the game.

Mauger hinted that Paea may feature again against the Blues, as could many other squad players who haven’t already featured in Moana Pasifika’s opening three matches.

“Obviously, Manu Paea was a part of that and then we got a late call for Ere this afternoon and Manu stepped up and nails his five or six minutes on his debut at the end and I think all those guys can step up and perform well,” Mauger said.

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“We’re gonna have a few debutants again – we had four today, for Moana Pasifika – and we’re probably gonna have another 8 to 10 to 12 debut over the next week, but we trust our squad… Everybody’s rising now so it’s exciting.”

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Mauger’s confidence in his squad was shared by Moana Pasifika captain Sekope Kepu, who has been impressed with his side’s output in training.

“I think the good thing with the guys is they’re always willing to learn and they’re growing every week. I feel that in our training sessions; the intensity’s just getting higher and higher, faster and faster,” Kepu said.

“It’s a positive sign from where we were to where we are now. Not to say that we’re the finished product but we’re heading in the right direction, in terms of guys pushing for spots now and guys competing in a healthy way.

“We’re all helping each other and we’re growing our game. We had a really intense, great review from last week’s game – just brutally honest about everything – and guys went away and worked on it.

“So, it’s up to everyone now to keep working and keep getting those little improvements because as we know now, other teams are gonna come at us harder so we’ve just to be on top of our game and keep working.”

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