While just 23 years of age, outstanding No 8 Akira Ioane will celebrate his 50th game for the Blues in Saturday’s Investec Super Rugby opener against the Crusaders at Eden Park.
Ioane has showed his resilience in amassing 48 Super games and the memorable win over the Lions, playing in every Super game for the Blues over the last two seasons.
While he plays his 50th, Otere Black has shown his patience to make his long-awaited debut at first five after missing the entire 2018 Super season with injury.
Strong pre-season form has been rewarded with the inclusion of North Harbour’s Sione Mafileo at tighthead prop, Northland’s Josh Goodhue at lock, Auckland captain TJ Faiane (Pakuranga United Rugby Club, ex-Saint Kentigern College) in the midfield and the debut of robust loose forward Tom Robinson from Northland.
There will be considerable interest in the inclusion of Ma’a Nonu at centre, returning to the Blues for a third time and for his 161st Super Rugby game, the most capped player in the competition.
With the Rugby World Cup year firmly on the horizon, new coach Leon Macdonald is required to manage the playing minutes of returning of All Blacks with Patrick Tuipulotu to captain the side at lock, exciting loose forward Dalton Papalii and Rieko Ioane on the left wing.
There is an ominous look to the Blues bench that includes All Blacks Karl Tu’inukuafe, Ofa Tu’ungafasi and Sonny Bill Williams, along with the experienced Augustine Pulu, Northland captain Matt Moulds and Gerard Cowley-Tuioti along with the exciting Harry Plummer, who is set to make his debut off the bench.
Players not considered because of injury include co-captain Blake Gibson (ankle), Stephen Perofeta (pectoral), Leni Apisai (neck), Jed Brown (calf), Ezekiel Lindenmuth (knee), Sam Nock (calf), Jacob Pierce (ankle), Jimmy Tupou (knee), Jordan Trainor (thigh), Matt Duffie (ex-Saint Kentigern College) (hamstring), Scott Scrafton (knee).
The team is: 15 Michael Collins, 14 Melani Nanai, 13 Ma’a Nonu, 12 TJ Faiane (Pakuranga United Rugby Club, ex-St Kents), 11 Rieko Ioane, 10 Otere Black, 9 Jonathan Ruru; 8 Akira Ioane, 7 Dalton Papalii (Pakuranga United Rugby Club, ex-St Kents ), 6 Tom Robinson, 5 Josh Goodhue, 4 Patrick Tuipulotu (captain), 3 Sione Mafileo (ex-St Kents), 2 James Parsons, 1 Alex Hodgman. Reserves: 16 Matt Moulds, 17 Karl Tu’inukuafe, 18 Ofa Tu’ungafasi, 19 Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, 20 Matt Matich, 21 Augustine Pulu, 22 Harry Plummer, 23 Sonny Bill Williams.
Crusaders named in the squad to play the Blues tomorrow with Pakuranga United Rugby Club connections: Braydon Ennor (Ex Pak Junior); Bryn Hall (Ex Pak Premier); (Reserves) Mitch Hunt (Ex Pak Premier).
Most of the Blues players not required for the Super Rugby clash, including several coming back from long term injury, will take part in the match between Blues A and Hurricanes A on Saturday.
The match, starting at 1pm on Saturday, will be at Marist Rugby Club, Dunkirk Rd, Panmure with the Blues A team coaches by George Konia and Ben Afeaki.
The Blues A team is: Marcel Renata, Luteru Tolai, Mikey Tamoaieta, Scott Scrafton, Evan Olmstead, Waimana Riedlinger-Kapa, Adrian Choat, Hoskins Sotutu; Lewis Gjaltema, Daniel Kirkpatrick, Tomas Aoake, Tanielu Tele’a, Levi Aumua, Mark Tele’a, Hawaii Ahokovi. Reserves: Mike Sosene-Feagai, Lua Li, Rob Cobb, Danny Drake, Glenn Preston, Brad McNaughten, Wiseguy Faiane, Harrison Groundwater, Temo Mayanavanua, Hauwai McGahan, Leka Tuungafasi.