All Blacks return to take on Chiefs

All Blacks return to take on Chiefs

All Black props Karl Tu’inukuafe and Ofa Tuungafasi return to the starting line-up for Saturday’s clash against Investec Super Rugby neighbours, the Chiefs in Hamilton on Saturday.

It will be just their second start together this season, after the pair has performed strongly off the bench.

This allows Alex Hodgman and Sione Mafileo, who have started in five and six games respectively this season, to have different roles and bring impact off the bench.

The other changes in the pack will see North Harbour’s hard-working Gerard Cowley-Tuioti return to the starting line-up for the fifth time this season, and All Black Dalton Papalii start after four games off the bench, replacing co-captain Blake Gibson, who suffered a laceration of his knee last weekend.

The remainder of the team is the same as that which prevailed over the Waratahs at Eden Park last week.

“We are fortunate to have a group of strong and in-form props,” said coach Leon MacDonald. “Alex and Sione had the advantage of a full pre-season to earn the start and have not put a foot wrong.

“But Karl and Ofa have been working exceptionally hard and given us real energy off the bench. They now have their chance to start and we will look to get that same level of input from our energisers when they come on.

“We are continuing to improve which is encouraging but we are under no illusions. We have not beaten the Chiefs in the last 14 games between us, so we come in as underdogs and will need to make a considerable step up.”

North Harbour captain James Parsons will join a formidable front row in his 99th game for the Blues and his 97th in Super Rugby and impressive 23-year-old No 8 Akira Ioane starts for the 26th straight occasion.

The backline is unchanged with Rieko Ioane hoping to build on his 16 clean breaks this season, the most in the competition, and his seven tries, which is equal second most in Super Rugby.

Not considered for selection is All Black Sonny Bill Williams, who will undergo minor arthroscopy surgery on his injured knee on Friday and is expected to return to play in around six weeks.

The injury to Gibson means that Tasman loose forward Jed Brown may make his debut for the Blues after earning five caps for the Crusaders, while All Black matt Duffie is set to make a return off the bench after recovering from serious hamstring surgery during the Mitre-10 Cup.

The Blues team is:

15 Melani Nanai, 14 Caleb Clarke, 13 TJ Faiane, 12 Ma’a Nonu, 11 Rieko Ioane, 10 Otere Black, 9 Jonathan Ruru; 8 Akira Ioane, 7 Dalton Papalii, 6 Tom Robinson, 5 Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, 4 Patrick Tuipulotu ©, 3 Ofa Tuungafasi, 2 James Parsons, 1. Karl Tu’inukuafe. Reserves: 16 Matt Moulds, 17 Alex Hodgman, 18 Sione Mafileo i, 19 Josh Goodhue, 20 Jed Brown, 21 Sam Nock, 22 Harry Plummer, 23 Matt Duffie.

Not considered because of injury: Jimmy Tupou (knee), Jacob Pierce (ankle), Blake Gibson (knee), Sonny Bill Williams (knee), Stephen Perofeta (shoulder/pectoral), Jordan Trainor (thigh), Tanielu Tele’a (suspended).