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Another starting lock injured for Blues as Ioane returns for Hurricanes game

By Ned Lester
Rieko Ioane of the Blues. Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images

The Blues are enjoying a hot start to their 2024 Super Rugby Pacific campaign but that form will be tested when they visit Wellington to face another undefeated squad, the Hurricanes.

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The Wellington team have claimed two strong wins against Australian opposition to date, beating the Reds (38-33) and the Force (44-15) to claim second place on the Super Rugby table thanks to a points differential three better than the Blues and three lower than the Chiefs.

To continue their winning streak, the Blues have rotated a couple of All Blacks back into the match-day squad in the form of halfback Finlay Christie and centre Rieko Ioane, who both sat out the Super Round win over the Highlanders.

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Christie rejoins the in-form Stephen Perofeta to complete one of the competition’s finest halves partnerships while Ioane resumes his midfield partnership with Harry Plummer.

The back three sees a change as Caleb Clarke gets the week off for a family wedding, seeing AJ Lam take his place on the left wing. Mark Tele’a will once more don the No 14 while Zarn Sullivan looks to continue his superb start to the season at fullback.

“Zarn’s had a solid start to the season, his defence in particular was instrumental in getting us on the front foot against the Highlanders and his tactical kicking has been superb in the opening few rounds,” said coach Vern Cotter.

“The more time Zarn spends on the paddock, the more confident and influential he becomes – we’re hoping for another strong performance from him this weekend.”

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The loose forward trio also has one change, with Hoskins Sotutu getting a mild rest by appearing off the bench, Akira Ioane moves to No 8 and the recently re-signed Anton Segner is promoted to the starting unit next to captain Dalton Papali’i.

“Akira is proving his versatility slotting in at Number Eight against the Hurricanes,” Cotter continued. “We’re expecting a fierce battle up front and so his no-nonsense approach to the game will help us gain ascendancy in that area on Saturday night.”

At lock, Laghlan McWhannell and Cameron Suafua step into the starting unit for the injured Patrick Tuipulotu and Sam Darry, with the latter set to miss at least six weeks after an MCL injury in the round two win over the Highlanders.

The front row rounds out the selections with Josh Fusitu’a, Kurt Eklund and Marcel Renata in for a mighty challenge against a Hurricanes unit that has been dominant to start the season. The form of the Hurricanes pack may be behind the decision to adopt a Springbok-esque 6-2 bench split.

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“There’s some good, healthy competition for spots in the front row at the moment and that group are all working hard to improve our overall performance. Fus, Kurty and Marce get the starting nod this week but the bench boys will no doubt play a role.”

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Blues team to face Hurricanes

  1. Joshua Fusitu’a
  2. Kurt Eklund
  3. Marcel Renata
  4. Laghlan McWhannell
  5. Cameron Suafoa
  6. Anton Segner
  7. Dalton Papali’i
  8. Akira Ioane
  9. Finlay Christie
  10. Stephen Perofeta
  11. AJ Lam
  12. Harry Plummer
  13. Rieko Ioane
  14. Mark Tele’a
  15. Zarn Sullivan

Reserves:

16. Ricky Riccitelli
17. Jordan Lay
18. Angus Ta’avao
19. Josh Beehre
20. Hoskins Sotutu
21. Adrian Choat
22. Taufa Funaki
23. Cole Forbes

Players not considered: Patrick Tuipulotu (jaw), Sam Darry (knee), Caleb Clarke (family wedding)

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