After a few days off following an arduous three-week schedule, the Blues are refocussing on the new challenge across the Tasman.
The team is excited to be part of the unique Super Round with all teams playing in Melbourne, with the Blues to take on Fijian Drua on Saturday to kick-start the Australian phase of the competition.
Coach Leon MacDonald said the team has drawn a line under the results in the New Zealand round, taken on board all of the positives from their efforts, and now looking forward to the challenge ahead.
“The Australian teams will bring some of the same but some things different. We recognise this and must adjust quickly to what they will throw at us,” said MacDonald.
“In some ways getting to play the Fijian Drua first-up is some help because they bring that same physical presence and off-loading abilities that we have encountered against Moana Pasifika.”
The schedule of five games in 20 days has resulted in some casualties with the team able to utilise their depth to good effect.
All Black Nepo Laulala, Sam Darry and Taufa Funaki come into the side to replace Alex Hodgman, Josh Goodhue and Finlay Christie respectively. Hodgman and Christie are working through HIA protocols and Goodhue will be out for several weeks with a broken thumb.
It’s going to be a ‘Super’ weekend of footy in Melbourne!
— Super Rugby NZ (@SuperRugbyNZ) April 20, 2022
All Blacks Ofa Tuungafasi and captain Dalton Papalii get a much-needed rest, replaced by another All Black in Karl Tu’inukuafe making his return after injury and highly promising Adrian Choat.
Beauden Barrett, in sparkling form, will take over the captaincy in a largely unchanged backline with Roger Tuivasa-Sheck getting his second start and Jacob Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens, who played in the Pasifika Youth Cup for Fiji, gets his second start.
There is plenty of talent on the bench with Tu’inukuafe, inspirational All Black Luke Romano and Māori All Black Marcel Renata.
The Blues remain in Australia, scheduled to travel to Perth to take on the Western Force, who have postponed their game this week because of a covid outbreak in their squad. The Blues are then scheduled to return home to host the Melbourne Rebels at Eden Park on Friday 6 May.
The Blues team to play the Fijian Drua in Melbourne on Saturday is (with Blues caps in brackets):
1. Jordan Lay (4)
2. Ricky Riccitelli (6)
3. Nepo Laulala (18)
4. James Tucker (5)
5. Sam Darry (11)
6. Tom Robinson (39)
7. Adrian Choat (12)
8. Hoskins Sotutu (30)
9. Taufa Funaki (4)
10. Beauden Barrett © (11)
11. AJ Lam (14)
12. Roger Tuivasa-Sheck (4)
13. Reiko Ioane (80)
14. Mark Telea (32)
15. Jacob Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens (5)
16. Soane Vikena (9)
17. Karl Tu’inukuafe (35)
18. Marcel Renata (25)
19. Luke Romano (7)
20. Anton Segner (3)
21. Lisati Milo Harris (0)
22. Tanielu Tele’a (18)
23. Jock McKenzie (1)