Thursday, April 18, 2024

Gatland and Perofeta both in starting line-up to play Highlanders

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The Blues’ two talented pivots both get their chance to start in Friday’s Investec Rugby clash against the Highlanders.

Bryn Gatland returns for his fifth start at first five, with in-form Stephen Perofeta, who has started in the last three games at No 10, moving back to fullback. It is not a position that is foreign to him, having played much of his time at Taranaki in that position, which offers him more room for his elusive running.

He starts at fullback with the other custodians Melani Nanai, Jordan Trainor and Michael Collins among the 18 walking-wounded not considered for selection by the Blues this week.

The tight five remains mostly intact with the versatile Jimmy Tupou moving into the second row – a role he has played often – alongside the in-form Patrick Tuipulotu who will be honoured after the game having achieved his 50th cap for the Blues in Japan.

Last year’s New Zealand Under-20s player Dalton Papalii, impressive off the bench in Tokyo, gets his first start after injury earlier in the season, taking Tupou’s spot on the flank.

In the backs Rieko Ioane moves back to his accustomed left wing where his battle with All Blacks teammate Waisaki Naholo should be a show-stopper, with TJ Faiane and Orbyn Leger paired in the midfield.

A storming debut with two tries for big Northland wing Jordan Hyland earns him a second start leaving All Black Matt Duffie to cover the back three spots off the bench.

The game starts a run of six games from seven at Eden Park, with head coach Tana Umaga wanting the team to take full toll of the home advantage.

“We have been mostly on the road with a tough two-game trip to South Africa and now a trip to Japan with a short turn around,” said Umaga.

“But we are home at Eden Park in front of our fans and our families for the next few games. We want to make this our fortress in the coming weeks starting on Friday.

“All of the clubs have injuries and we are no different. But it gives opportunities for other players to stand up and bring some real enthusiasm to our team.

“We have improved over the last two weeks and once again we have to step up again to another level in every facet of our game. Our record against other New Zealand team is well documented so we want to make to make our homecoming a special one.”

There is a special curtain raiser with the Blues A team taking on the visiting Japan A team which has a number of their international squad playing. This begins at 5.05pm.

There will also be a special tribute to the ANZACs pre-match. Both teams will walk on to the field, along with New Zealand Defence Force personnel for the tribute.

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