The Blues have secured some exciting new additions to boost a settled core of proven performers for their 2018 Investec Super Rugby Championship campaign.
Ten current or former All Blacks are joined by some impressive 2017 Blues players to form the nucleus of the side for 2018. Three with local connections – including one new name – make the side – TJ Faiane and newcomer Dalton Papalii from Pakuranga United Rugby Club. Matt Duffie, formerly of Saint Kentigern College (Papalii’s old school as well), is in the side again. Duffie was last week named in the All Blacks side to tour France, Scotland and Wales at the end of the season.
The Blues have also rewarded a number of players who impressed week-in, week-out in the Mitre 10 Cup, and helped the likes of North Harbour, Northland, Canterbury, Tasman and Taranaki to successful seasons.
They have also recognised some exception young players who have emerged through the Blues age group pathway and retained them in the region.
Head coach Tana Umaga said he is pleased with the balance in the squad with proven experience, strong performers this year and some exciting young players.
“We have a settled core of All Blacks and experienced Super Rugby players as our nucleus,” Umaga said.
“We’ve seen a number of our 2017 team produce excellent form in the Mitre 10 Cup and others who have played well to earn their opportunity.
“At the same time we are always looking ahead, especially to young guys who have come through our programmes or want to come back to Auckland and want to play for the Blues.
“We have to work harder than we have before, but above all else have players wanting to progress both on and off the field.”
The squad includes current All Blacks Ofa Tuungafasi, Jerome Kaino, Matt Duffie, Patrick Tuipulotu, Rieko Ioane and Sonny Bill Williams with Akira Ioane part of the wider squad this year. They join with the experienced James Parsons, Pauliasi Manu, Augustine Pulu, George Moala and Jimmy Tupou who have 318 Super caps between them.
The 2017 Blues players with outstanding Mitre 10 Cup form from include Alex Hodgman, Josh Goodhue, Matt Moulds, Sam Nock, Stephen Perofeta and Murphy Taramai. And strong form in the national provincial competition has led to opportunities for North Harbour’s Mike Tamoaieta, Tasman’s Isaac Salmon and Southland’s Matt Johnson.
There is genuine excitement with a quartet of young players including Caleb Clarke, Dalton Papalii and Tamati Tua who have come through the Blues development programme.
Wellington first five Otere Black, who announced his move to the Blues recently, will be out for the season after suffering an ACL injury and will be replaced by experienced first five Daniel Kirkpatrick, who has returned after several years playing in France.
Likewise inspirational loose forward Blake Gibson will be out for the first part of the Super season in recovery from an operation on his shoulder.
The squad get together from the end of November with the All Blacks returning later in January.
The 2018 Blues squad is:
Hookers: Leni Apisai, Matt Moulds, James Parsons.
Front row: Alex Hodgman, Sione Mafileo, Pauliasi Manu, Isaac Salmon, Mike Tamoaieta, Ofa Tuungafasi.
Locks: Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, Josh Goodhue, Scott Scrafton, Patrick Tuipulotu, Jimmy Tupou
Loose forwards: Blake Gibson, Akira Ioane, Jerome Kaino, Dalton Papalii, Glenn Preston, Kara Pryor, Murphy Taramai.
Halfbacks: Sam Nock, Augustine Puli, Jonathan Ruru.
First Five: Otere Black/Daniel Kirkpatrick, Bryn Gatland, Stephen Perofeta.
Midfield: Matt Johnson, George Moala, Tamati Tua, TJ Faiane, Sonny Bill Williams.
Outside backs: Caleb Clarke, Michael Collins, Matt Duffie, Rieko Ioane, Melanie Nanai, Jordan Trainor.