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'No one's been spared': MacDonald backs cross-town rivals

By Tom Vinicombe
Michael Curry. (Photo by Brett Phibbs/Photosport)

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Despite knowing full well what Moana Pasifika could bring to the table after seeing the new men of Super Rugby Pacific score a surprise win against the Hurricanes over the weekend, the Blues still struggled to deal with the physicality and never-say-die attitude of their Auckland rivals at Mt Smart Stadium on Tuesday evening.

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At 19-0 after 35 minutes, the Blues looked to be pulling away from the contest and a result not dissimilar to the Chiefs’ 59-12 dismantling of Moana Pasifika didn’t look entirely off the cards. The Pacific Islanders had other ideas, however, and scored tries either side of halftime (and were also denied a third) to bring themselves within seven points of their opposition. A red card to Blues prop Nepo Laulala in the 56th minute could have swung the match in the home team’s favour but it was the visitors who finished stronger, eventually securing a 32-19 victory.

Both teams rolled out vastly changed line-ups for the match following their respective wins over the weekend and many would have expected the relatively more season Blues to canter away to victory but Moana Pasifika showed once again that you’d be writing of Super Rugby’s newest side at your own peril.

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Unsurprisingly, Blues coach Leon MacDonald asserted after the match that Moana Pasifika’s latest match further “absolutely” justified the team’s inclusion in this year’s competition.

“Every game [they’ve performed], they rattled the Crusaders in the early rounds, they were in the game at half-time against the Chiefs – the Chiefs were able to pull away from them – and then obviously the Hurricanes and now us, so no one’s been spared from Moana yet,” MacDonald said.

“They’re a great team and I know that everybody’s giving them full respect because, when they get their tails up, they’re extremely hard to stop. Some of the plays that they have are nearly impossible [to defend] with the offloads that they can do or the footwork, so they belong in this comp.

“I think they’ve brought an awesome flavour, their own style, and their culture’s really strong and I know there’s a lot of people really proud of their team, supporting them.”

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While MacDonald could see what Moana Pasifika were capable of from his seat in the coaches’ box, Blues hooker Ricky Riccitelli was out on the field experiencing it – and mimicked MacDonald’s sentiments.

“It’s pretty obvious, with the results and putting teams under pressure, that they’re going to be a big force in this comp and that they belong here,” Riccitelli said. “No one’s taking them lightly, they’re a good side and they’ve earned the respect they’ve gotten, so, as I said, they’re just building and they’ve got a brand of footy that’s pretty exciting to watch and they’ve got some athletes all over the park, so you’ve got to respect that. They’re actually a good side.”

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The two sides will square off once more on Saturday evening, with the Blues playing host across town at Eden Park. While a large change in personnel in expected, MacDonald suggested that with just a few days to prepare for the rematch, not a lot is likely to change for either side from a strategic point of view.

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“I think both teams will take a lot away from this performance,” he said. “They would have seen opportunities that they enjoyed against us, and we want to do the same, and likewise for us.

“Given we’ve only got a four-day turnaround, there won’t be a huge amount being able to change. We just need to really freshen up, make sure we’ve got the same mindset to go into the performance.”

Saturday evening’s fixture will kick off at 7:05pm with both teams due to be named for the match on Thursday.

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