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Seven All Blacks stars return to Blues lineup for Western Force clash

By Alex McLeod
Credit: Derek Morrison / www.photosport.nz

Seven All Blacks – headlined by Caleb Clarke, Akira Ioane and captain Dalton Papalii – have returned to the Blues lineup for their clash against the Western Force on Friday.

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Clarke, Ioane and Papalii are joined by fellow New Zealand internationals Finlay Christie, Ofa Tu’ungafasi, Alex Hodgman – who is in line for his 50th Blues cap – and Luke Romano in their return to the Auckland-based franchise’s starting team.

Their additions represent seven of 11 changes made to Leon MacDonald’s starting side following their disjointed 35-18 Super Round win over the Fijian Drua at AAMI Park in Melbourne last Saturday.

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Aotearoa Rugby Pod | Episode 11

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Aotearoa Rugby Pod | Episode 11

The inclusions of Clarke and Ioane are arguably the most significant of the lot, though, given the former has missed the last three weeks through suspension, while the latter hasn’t played at all this season due to a foot injury.

Clarke was handed a three-week suspension after colliding with the head of Moana Pasifika wing Tomasi Alosio at Eden Park earlier this month, and hasn’t been sighted since.

Ioane, meanwhile, has been sidelined throughout the entirety of the Super Rugby Pacific campaign thus far as a result of a Lisfranc fracture sustained during pre-season.

Both will mark their returns to action at HBF Park this weekend, and they will be joined by Papalii, who was given last week off after starring in the previous week’s blockbuster win over the Crusaders in Christchurch.

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Together, Ioane and Papalii form a brand-new loose forward trio which also features rookie No 8 Anton Segner.

Of last week’s starters, No 8 Hoskins Sotutu is one of three All Blacks, including midfielder Rieko Ioane and prop Nepo Laulala, on rest weeks, while blindside flanker Tom Robinson sits out after picking up a minor knock against the Drua.

In Laulala’s absence comes Tu’ungafasi, who is one third of an entirely new front row that is also made up by Hodgman and hooker Kurt Eklund.

The remainder of the forwards are made up by locks Romano and Sam Darry, who is the only survivor in the starting pack from last week’s win.

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In the backline, star five-eighths Beauden Barrett and Roger Tuivasa-Sheck are the only two players retained in their respective positions by MacDonald.

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Barrett will resume his halves partnership with Christie, while Tuivasa-Sheck will create a fresh midfield combination with Bryce Heem.

Out wide, last week’s man-of-the-match AJ Lam shifts to the right wing to accomodate for Clarke’s return, while Zarn Sullivan slots in at fullback in place of Jacob Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens.

All Blacks loosehead prop Karl Tu’inukuafe, tighthead prop Marcel Renata and utility back Tanielu Tele’a are joined by five new faces on the bench, all of whom started against the Drua.

Those players include hooker Ricky Riccitelli, lock James Tucker, flanker Adrian Choat, halfback Taufa Funaki and wing Mark Telea.

In a statement released on Wednesday, MacDonald said his side need to be on point in their away match against the Force, whose match last week against Moana Pasifika was postponed due to a Covid outbreak within their squad.

“This is a well-respected rugby region and we know it is an extremely hard place to come and be successful,” MacDonald said.

“We are aware they were hit with Covid, as all the New Zealand teams have experienced, but equally they are freshened after not playing last week.

“We have huge respect for the Force and for both the rugby in general in Western Australia and the tremendous support the game gets in this part of the world.

“We played a little into the Drua’s hands last weekend, and we know we will need to be more assertive at set-piece and at the collision but at the same time ensure our defence is both aggressive but disciplined.

“While we are obviously pleased to have won a bunch of games on the trot, believe me, we are not looking at the points table. The focus continues to be session-by-session, day-by-day and game-by-game.”

Kick-off for Friday’s match between the Blues and Western Force is scheduled for 7:59pm local time [11:59pm NZT].

Blues team to play Western Force

1. Alex Hodgman
2. Kurt Eklund
3. Ofa Tu’ungafasi
4. Luke Romano
5. Sam Darry
6. Akira Ioane
7. Dalton Papalii (c)
8. Anton Segner
9. Finlay Christie
10. Beauden Barrett
11. Caleb Clarke
12. Roger Tuivasa-Sheck
13. Bryce Heem
14. AJ Lam
15. Zarn Sullivan

Reserves:

16. Ricky Riccitelli
17. Karl Tu’inukuafe
18. Marcel Renata
19. James Tucker
20. Adrian Choat
21. Taufa Funaki
22. Tanielu Tele’a
23. Mark Telea

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finn 4 hours ago
Why the world needs a reverse Lions tour

I think there’s a lot of reasons this wouldn’t work, but if we’re just proposing fun things how about a “World Series” held the june/july following a world cup. The teams competing each four years would be: the current world champions The Pacific Islands The British & Irish Lions The World XV Barbarians FC to ensure all teams are fairly evenly matched, the current world champions would name their squad first; then The Pacific Islands would name next, and would be able to select any pacific qualified players not selected by the world champions, including players already “captured” by non-pacific nations who would otherwise have been eligible for selection (eg. Bundee Aki); the Lions would select next; and then The World XV and Barbarians FC would be left to fight over anyone not selected. Some people will point out that 5 teams is too many for a mid-year round robin, particularly as it would be nice to have a final as well; and they would be right! But because we’re just having fun here we’re going to innovate an entirely new format for rugby, where the round robin is played in one stadium over the course of one day, with each game lasting just 40 minutes with no half time or change of ends. The round robin decides the seedings for the knockouts, which are contested by all 5 teams in one stadium over the course of one day, according to the following schedule: Knockout Round 1: seed 5 v seed 4 (contested over 1 half of indetermined length, finishing when one team reaches 7 points) ~ 10 minute break ~ Quarter Final: winner of Round 1 v seed 3 (contested over 1 half of indetermined length, finishing when one team reaches 7 points) ~ 10 minute break ~ Semi Final: winner of Quarter Final v seed 2 (contested over 1 half of indetermined length, finishing when one team reaches 7 points) ~ 10 minute break ~ Final: winner of Semi Final v seed 1 (played as a standard 80 minute rugby match) for the round robin, teams would name a 15 man starting lineup and a 16 man bench. Substitutions during games can only be made for injuries, but any number of substitutions can be made between games. The same rules apply for the finals, except that we return to having a regular 8 man bench, and would allow substitutions as normal during the 80 minute final.

12 Go to comments
S
Simon 6 hours ago
Is the Six Nations balance of power shifting?

There are a few issues with the article. Despite somehow getting to a RWC semi final, England are nowhere near Probable status and should be swapped with Scotland on current form. France’s failure at RWC 23 has massively hit their mindset. Psychologically, they need a reset of gigantic proportions otherwise they will revert to, Top 14 first, international rugby an afterthought again. Ireland are allowed to play the way they are by less than acceptable officiating. Make no bones about it, with Easterby coaching, Ireland cheat, they break the rules at almost every facet of the game and generally referees, influenced by the media that Ireland are somehow playing the best rugby in the world, allow them. Scrums - Porter never pushes straight and immediately turns in. The flankers lose their binds and almost latch on to the opposition props. Rucks - they always and I mean always clear out from the side and take players out beyond the ball, effectively taking them out of being ready for the next phase. Not once do green shirts enter rucks from the rear foot. Referees should be made to look at the video of the game against Wales and see that Irish backs and forwards happily enter rucks from the side to effect a clearout, thus giving them the sub 3 second ruck speed everybody dreams about. They also stand in offside positions at rucks to ‘block’ opposing players from making clear tackles allowing the ball carrier to break the gainline almost every time. They then turn and are always ahead of play and therefore enter subsequent rucks illegally. Mauls - there is always a blocker between the ball catcher and the opposition. It is subtle but it is there. Gatland still needs to break the shackles and allow his team a bit more freedom to play rugby. He no longer has a team of 16 stone plus players who batter the gainline. He has to adapt and be more thoughtful in attack. Scotland are playing well but they have the creaky defence that leaks tries.

23 Go to comments
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