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Rieko Ioane returns as Blues look to back up Crusaders win in ‘stern test’

By Finn Morton
Rieko Ioane of the Blues. Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images

All Blacks centre Rieko Ioane will take the field in round six as one of six changes to the Blues’ starting side to play Moana Pasifika in an ‘away’ fixture at Auckland’s Eden Park on Saturday.

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Ioane, who missed last weekend’s drought-breaking win over the Crusaders, will line up in the midfield along with Bryce Heem who put in an 80-minute shift against the defending champions.

While All Blacks Caleb Clarke and Mark Tele’a have held their places in the First XV, Corey Evans will start in the No. 15 jersey in the absence of injured fullback Zarn Sullivan.

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The four other changes are in the forward pack with Soane Vikena and Marcel Renata taking their place in the front row, and Anton Segner and Adrian Choat starting in the loose forwards.

“This will be a stern test on Saturday afternoon,” coach Vern Cotter said in a statement.

“We’ve seen how well Moana are playing this year, they are well coached and pose dangerous attacking threats across the park, we’ll need a big defensive effort to contain them.

“Last season this fixture came down to the final seconds – it was a cliff hanger. We expect Moana to bring plenty of passion to the occasion; even though we’re playing at Eden Park, this is a home game for them.”

Ofa Tu’ungafasi, captain Patrick Tuipulotu, lock Laghlan McWhannell and backrower Hoskins Sotutu are the four forwards who have retained their spots in the starting side.

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Halfback Finlay Christie will bring up his 50th Blues game on Saturday with familiar halves partner Stephen Perofeta just outside him in the No. 10 jersey.

For the Blues, who are fourth on the Super Rugby Pacific ladder, they know how important it is to back up last weekend’s big win over the Crusaders.

“Backing up a performance like we put on against the Crusaders is key here. We’re asking the guys to stack good games together which will be important for us going forward,” Cotter added.

Head-to-Head

Last 4 Meetings

Wins
0
Draws
0
Wins
4
Average Points scored
18
39
First try wins
100%
Home team wins
50%

“Fin (Christie) has been a strong, solid presence at the Blues for several seasons and has really grown his game while at the club, I wish him well in his 50th game this Saturday.”

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Replacement hooker Ricky Riccitelli will also bring up a major milestone by playing his 100th Super Rugby match across stints with the Hurricanes and now Blues.

“Ricky is an exceptionally hard trainer and has brought a strong, competitive edge to our hooking stocks. It’s a massive effort to bring up 100 Super Rugby games and I know the boys want to put in a performance befitting of the occasion.”

The match at Eden Park is scheduled to get underway at 4:35 pm NZT on Saturday.

Blues team to take on Moana Pasifika

  1. Ofa Tu’ungafasi
  2. Soane Vikena
  3. Marcel Renata
  4. Patrick Tuipulotu (c)
  5. Laghlan McWhannell
  6. Anton Segner
  7. Adrian Choat
  8. Hoskins Sotutu
  9. Finlay Christie (50th Blues game)
  10. Stephen Perofeta
  11. Caleb Clarke
  12. Bryce Heem
  13. Rieko Ioane
  14. Mark Tele’a
  15. Corey Evans

Reserves

  1. Ricky Riccitelli (100th Super Rugby game)
  2. Joshua Fusitu’a
  3. Angus Ta’avao
  4. Josh Beehre
  5. Akira Ioane
  6. Sam Nock
  7. Harry Plummer
  8. Cole Forbes
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