The Blues are amped and ready to ensure that the Easter break will be no holiday for the visiting Hurricanes when they clash in the Sky Super Rugby Aotearoa match at Eden Park on Saturday night.
The second placed Blues, with two wins and two losses in their opening four games, will begin the second round of the competition following their 31-16 victory over the Canes in the opening match in Wellington.
Coach Leon MacDonald has made several changes after the disappointing loss to the Chiefs, although most of the Blues squad from that win in Wellington last month will take part this weekend.
The only “new faces” from the opening match are veteran TJ Faiane, who gets his first start after an injury-delayed season, and exciting young lock Sam Darry, who made his impressive Super Rugby debut against the Highlanders.
Darry comes in for captain Patrick Tuipulotu, who has not recovered from a shoulder injury received in last weekend’s match.
Loose forward Tom Robinson, who made a significant impact off the bench against the Chiefs, has earned his first start of the season at loose forward and will captain the side.
“The performance overall against the Chiefs was disappointing, especially at set-piece, our lack of accuracy and discipline. The players who made an impact off the bench or have been working hard on the training field have earned their chance.
“Sam gets another start at lock after he impressed us earlier in the season and Tom will lead this team in place Patrick,” said coach Leon MacDonald.
Sam Nock gets his opportunity to start at halfback for the second time this season with Jonathan Ruru expected to add real thrust again from the reserves.
The front row continues the inter-change of All Black props with Ofa Tuungafasi welcomed at home in front of friends and family for his 101st game in blue, and Karl Tu’inukuafe, both starting.
The potential new cap will come in the form of strong-running winger AJ Lam, outstanding in the Mitre-10 Cup, and rewarded after continuing to impress on the training field.
“We are primed to get back on track with a much better all-round performance,” said MacDonald. “When we got some go-forward ball we showed how dangerous we can be. But we need to be more accurate at set-piece, and continue to improve in terms of our discipline.
“We started the season well but lacked precision over the last two games and last week’s game was disappointing. That has led to some changes this week as players who have done the mahi at training get their opportunity.
“We are back at Eden Park and looking to put together a performance of quality that we and our loyal fans will be proud of.”
The Blues have won three of the last four match-ups against the Canes, but the Wellington-based crew won the previous seven clashes dating back to 2016 with four games decided by five points or less.
Instead of hours on the motorway getting out of the city for Easter, a true-blue experience at Eden Park supporting your Blues is great value, with children free with a paying GA ticketholder, for as little as $20. There is plenty of entertainment, food and refreshments with the cost of event buses included the ticket.
The Blues team is:
15 Stephen Perofeta, 14 Mark Telea, 13 Rieko Ioane, 12 TJ Faiane, 11 Caleb Clarke, 10 Otere Black, 9 Sam Nock; 8 Hoskins Sotutu, 7 Dalton Papalii, 6 Tom Robinson (c), 5 Sam Darry, 4 Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, 3 Ofa Tuungafasi, 2 Luteru Tolai, 1 Karl Tu’inukuafe.
Reserves: 16 Leni Apisai, 17 Alex Hodgman, 18 Nepo Laulala, 19 Josh Goodhue, 20 Akira Ioane, 21 Jonathan Ruru, 22 Harry Plummer, 23 AJ Lam.
Players not considered with injury: Ray Niuia (knee), Dillon Hunt (concussion), Jone Macalai (season-ending).