Caleb Clarke returns to the left wing in a near full-strength Blues side for the Semi Final, with Head Coach Leon MacDonald showing faith in those who’ve got the team to this point in the competition.
“It’s nice to be able to show some consistency in selection at this stage of the season; the boys going out there know what they need to do,” said MacDonald.
“There’s a history of epic battles between these two sides and I’m sure Friday will be no different. The Crusaders in Christchurch is a stern test, there’s no doubt about that but it’s games like this we all look forward to.”
MacDonald is all too aware that accuracy and cool heads are required in the high-pressure cauldron of knockout Super Rugby.
“Our season has been geared towards this, we showed patience against the Waratahs, held the ball for long periods and were accurate off the tee – we want to mirror all those qualities in another knockout contest this Friday.”
MacDonald also noted the two milestone men – Ioane and Sotutu – saying both have played pivotal roles for the Blues this season.
“Congrats to Rieko and Hoskins on reaching their 100th and 50th game milestones respectively,” he said.
“Rieko has been a rock for us at centre all season and I know he’s fired up to put in a big performance on Friday night. To play 100 games for the club is testament to the hard work he puts in to keep himself fit and available for selection. He has a leadership role within this team and I’m sure he’s got plenty more appearances in blue to come.”
“Hoskins has had a really strong season to-date – his ball playing ability and work around the field make him a threat to any defence he comes up against. I know the boys want to put in a big one for both him and Rieko on Friday night.”
Blues Captain Dalton Papalii said his team had talked about relishing the opportunity to go down south and take on the Crusaders in their own backyard.
“Their record speaks for itself, they’ve never lost a finals game at home and we know we’ll have to be at our best to win this Semi Final.”
“We can take a lot of heart from the way we defended our line last time we were in Christchurch. We know we’re going down into enemy territory and are prepared to face the music. As a team we are walking towards this challenge and embracing everything that comes with being in a Semi Final – we can’t wait!”
1: Ofa Tuungafasi
2: Ricky Riccitelli
3: Nepo Laulala
4: Tom Robinson
5: James Tucker
6: Akira Ioane
7: Dalton Papalii (c)
8: Hoskins Sotutu – 50th cap
9: Finlay Christie
10: Beauden Barrett
11: Caleb Clarke
12: Bryce Heem
13: Rieko Ioane – 100th cap
14: Mark Telea
15: Zarn Sullivan
Reserves: Kurt Eklund, Jordan Lay, Marcel Renata, Cameron Suafoa, Adrian Choat, Sam Nock, Harry Plummer, Stephen Perofeta