All Black prop Ofa Tuungafasi is set to become the eighth Blues player to reach 100 games when the team travel down SH1 to take on neighbours, the Chiefs in their Sky Super Rugby Aotearoa clash in Hamilton on Saturday.
Tuungafasi will come off the bench on Saturday after the citing against him was dropped by the judiciary after a video hearing on Wednesday evening, following a yellow card in cleaning out Scott Barrett at the breakdown in last weekend’s game against the Crusaders.
Fellow All Black loose forward Dalton Papalii and flying winger Mark Telea will return after missing a week with head knocks while halfback Finlay Christie makes his first start of the season following time out with injury.
Bolstered by the returning players, the Blues will look to return to their winning ways after the hard-fought lose to the Crusaders.
They will be without suspended hooker Kurt Eklund but have significant depth with Auckland hooker, Leni Apisai, with 20 Super games to his credit, earning a recall after training as an injury replacement.
The backline outside Christie is virtually unchanged while there are six All Blacks in a powerful pack to take on the Chiefs, including the in-form Nepo Laulala who starts at tighthead against his former team.
Coach Leon MacDonald said his team were keen to further develop on the progress in the opening three games.
“While we did not get the result that we wanted last week, there were a lot of things that we did well,” said MacDonald.
“We know the Chiefs will be boosted with their comeback over the Hurricanes and they are always really tough opponents as we know after playing them twice in pre-season.
“We will be looking for good go-forward ball from our pack to set our backs into gear.
“We need more discipline – we can’t afford to give away five kickable penalties like we did on Sunday. We want to see the players express themselves more but at the same time be a bit more clinical in taking their chances.”
MacDonald said he was pleased that the judiciary had cleared Tuungafasi in an important area of the game.
“I commented after the game that it appeared to us that Ofa had done everything right in entering from the back of the breakdown, he lowered his body and never left his feet. His role is to clear out bodies trying to slow down the ball at the breakdown – and he did it very accurately and it is pleasing to see that they saw it that way.
“We are thrilled to see Ofa get to 100 games. He is a consummate professional, a quiet but very astute player, an immense and powerful prop and a quiet and outstanding human.
“We have him with us through to 2024 which is fantastic and by that time he might just threaten 150 games in blue.”
The Blues team is:
15 Stephen Perofeta, 14 Mark Telea, 13 Rieko Ioane, 12 Harry Plummer, 11 Caleb Clarke, 10 Otere Black, 9 Finlay Christie; 8 Hoskins Sotutu, 7 Dalton Papalii, 6 Akira Ioane, 5 Josh Goodhue, 4 Patrick Tuipulotu ©, 3 Nepo Laulala, 2 Luteru Tolai, 1 Alex Hodgman.
Reserves: 16 Leni Apisai, 17 Karl Tu’inukuafe, 18 Ofa Tuungafasi, 19 Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, 20 Tom Robinson, 21 Adrian Choat, 22 Jonathan Ruru, 23 TJ Faiane.
Players not considered with injury: Soane Vikena (Pec), Ray Niuia (knee), Dillon Hunt (concussion), Blake Gibson (head injury), Jone Macalai (season-ending).