Scott Robertson and Leon MacDonald have confirmed their line ups for the top of the table Super Rugby Aotearoa clash on Saturday with the Blues travelling to Christchurch to tackle the Crusaders.
The Blues have named arguably their strongest team for the top of the table match against the Crusaders in Christchurch on Saturday. The pack is unchanged from the side that beat the Highlanders before the break, with two changes in the backs. Halfback Finlay Christie and second-five Harry Plummer will start after coming off the bench in their previous three Super Rugby Aotearoa games.
There are 16 players in the travelling party that have played in all four Super Rugby Aotearoa matches, with the bench further strengthened with the return of All Black Karl Tu’inukuafe and Blake Gibson, both recovered from injuries. MacDonald said Christie earned his start after excellent performances off the bench and he will renew his combination with fellow former Hurricanes backs Otere Black and Beauden Barrett. Plummer is an excellent all-round player who adds yet another kicking option and allows 41-game midfielder TJ Faiane to come off the bench after playing big minutes in this competition.
Meanwhile, Crusaders Head Coach Scott Robertson has made few changes to the side that secured a bonus-point win against the Highlanders last weekend. Ethan Blackadder sustained a knee injury at training last week and was ruled out of the match in Dunedin. His replacements, Sione Havili and Tom Sanders, will rotate this week, with Sanders to start and Havili named on the bench. The rest of the forward pack is unchanged. In the backs, Bryn Hall and Mitch Drummond provide a dynamic 1-2 combination at halfback, with Hall to start and Drummond named in the reserves. There is also a reshuffle in the outside backs, with Leicester Faingaanuku replaced by George Bridge on the left wing, and Sevu Reece earning a start on the right wing. The in-form Will Jordan is set to provide impact off the bench.
Heading in to the bye next week, the Crusaders have an opportunity to extend their lead at the top of the standings table in Super Rugby Aotearoa, while a Blues win on Saturday would see them overtake the home side at the halfway point in the competition.
What the coaches said:
Crusaders head coach Scott Robertson: ‘’It’s obviously a hard decision [to play Havili over Jordan],’’ Crusaders coach Scott Robertson said, having named vice-captain David Havili at fullback, and George Bridge and Sevu Reece on the wings.
‘’But when you've got two All Black wings and your vice-captain, who was probably player of Super Rugby before Covid-19 and he got sick (bowel surgery). We spent a lot of time on the decision-making and who would start. But the young fella will bring a lot off the bench.’
‘’He's [Jordan] just explosive, isn't he? He has got great timing and anticipation and can beat a man. He's pretty exciting, but he'll get more chances.’’
‘’But he’s got all the qualities required. He’s definitely on the radar. [Of the All Blacks]’’
Blues head coach Leon MacDonald: “The team is naturally excited about the contest and we are confident, based on our efforts every day in training,” said
“The Crusaders are the benchmark in New Zealand rugby, so we are under no illusion about the task ahead of us. They have won the last 35 games of Super Rugby at home.
“Just because we have won the last three games, we know that means nothing in the scheme of things.
“We know that we will need to be very accurate with and without the ball while the battle in the forwards for clean front-foot possession with be a key.
“If we can implement our game plan and execute, then there is no reason why we can’t provide a stern test. And if the weather plays ball, it should be a cracking game.”
The Crusaders team: 15. David Havili (VC), 14. Sevu Reece, 13. Braydon Ennor, 12. Jack Goodhue, 11. George Bridge, 10. Richie Mo'unga, 9. Bryn Hall, 8. Whetukamokamo Douglas (VC), 7. Tom Christie, 6. Tom Sanders, 5. Mitchell Dunshea, 4. Samuel Whitelock, 3. Michael Alaalatoa, 2. Codie Taylor (C), 1. Joe Moody
Reserves: 16. Andrew Makalio, 17. George Bower, 18. Oliver Jager, 19. Quinten Strange, 20. Sione Havili, 21. Mitchell Drummond, 22. Fetuli Paea, 23. Will Jordan
The Blues team: 15 Beauden Barrett, 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 Ofa Tuungafasi, 2 James Parsons, 1 Alex Hodgman.
Reserves: 16 Kurt Eklund, 17 Karl Tu’inukuafe, 18 Sione Mafileo, 19 Aaron Carroll, 20 Blake Gibson, 21 Jonathan Ruru, 22 TJ Faiane, 23 Matt Duffie.
Players not considered with injury: Jared Page (hamstring), Stephen Perofeta (fractured foot), Tom Robinson (knee). Season ending: Ray Niuia, James Tucker, Tanielu Tele’a.