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The returning All Black who could have big say in Blues’ clash with Chiefs

By Finn Morton
Dalton Papali'i of the Blues runs through drills during a Blues Super Rugby training session at Blues HQ on March 19, 2024 in Auckland, New Zealand. (Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

Former All Blacks fullback Mils Muliaina believes the return of Dalton Papali’i will be a “big” boost for the Blues as the “disappointed” side looks to bounce back against the Chiefs in a blockbuster New Zealand derby in Auckland.

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Following on from their heartbreaking loss to the Crusaders in Christchurch, the Blues will look to bounce back ahead of the Super Rugby Pacific playoffs on Saturday. But the challenge ahead of them is by no means with the Chiefs set to come to town.

The Blues are first on the ladder, and they can lock up top spot with a bonus point win. As for the Chiefs, who were beaten by the Hurricanes in a thriller last Friday night, they’re fourth on the ladder but momentum is crucial at this time of year.

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With both teams looking to return to the winner’s circle in round 15, the significance of this matchup can’t be underestimated. Australian broadcaster Sean Maloney expects it to be the game of the round and with good reason as well.

The return of All Blacks Caleb Clarke and Finlay Christie are certainly talking points, but Muliaina highlighted the importance of Dalton Papali’i coming back into the starting side after missing last weekend’s game in Christchurch.

“They both lost last week. Very, very good squads, even the naming of the guys that have come back… this is a huge match for both teams,” Muliaina said on Stan Sport’s The Call Up.

“(Ricky) Riccitelli comes back into the fold. He joins (Marcel) Renata up front. They’ve been quite solid in that department.

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“They’ll be disappointed with the way they played against the Crusaders… they were put under pressure, didn’t convert opportunities into points.

“The big one for me is the return of Dalton Papali’i. I think they really missed him last week against the Crusaders. His ability to do things off the ball but also the way he’s gone about carrying with ball in hand.

“The Chiefs, not a bad squad either.”

Head-to-Head

Last 5 Meetings

Wins
4
Draws
0
Wins
1
Average Points scored
27
14
First try wins
80%
Home team wins
80%

Muliaina, who played for both the Chiefs and Blues during his decorated professional rugby career, was quite complimentary of the visitor’s team as well. While Muliaina seems to expect the Blues to win, there’s a lot to like about the Chiefs.

Bradley Slater Naitoa Ah Kuoi, Jimmy Tupou, Samipeni Finau and Wallace Sititi have all been named to return as the five changes to their starting forward pack. Aidan Ross, George Dyer and captain Luke Jacobson are the trio who’ve retained their spots.

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In the backs, there are only two changes, and both are in the midfield. Rameka Poihipi and Daniel Rona com into the run-on side. While their perceived inexperience may be a concern for some, Muliaina expects the centre pairing to perform.

“The big one that stands out also for the Chiefs is you look at Poihipi and Rona. Usually, in the past, you go ‘oh man, two youngsters’ going into what is a very crucial game,” Muliaina explained.

“They’re youngsters who’ve been involved… they don’t look out of place when you think that Anton Lienert-Brown is not there and Quinn Tupaea is on the bench.

“I like the look of the Chiefs but, to me, if I’m going to pick a side – home advantage is going to be key. I think up front they might struggle up front, that’s probably an area the Blues will have it over the Chiefs come this weekend.”

Watch the exclusive reveal-all episode of Walk the Talk with Ardie Savea as he chats to Jim Hamilton about the RWC 2023 experience, life in Japan, playing for the All Blacks and what the future holds. Watch now for free on RugbyPass TV

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Comments

1 Comment
T
T-Bone 25 days ago

Yes he was missed last week
Choat whilst industrious couldn’t match Glassadder and Grace

It will be very interesting to see the loose forward mix for England
Tough calls for Razor and co - Will his crusader head take over?
Ironically out of the crusader loosies I’ve been most impressed with CLW
Really versatile and covers 8 far better than EB and CG

Really tough calls to make for Razor but old like to see Papalii, Finau and Ardie start

Sotutu on the bench but rotate loosies next match

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