Blues to test their playmaker depth against Moana Pasifika

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Coach Leon MacDonald said the need to play catch-up games, as a result of postponements due to Covid, had forced teams to look to the depth of their squads even further than they would under normal circumstances.

He said a critical part of coaching was dealing with multiple injuries in the same position, especially when it was a key position like first five-eighths. With Harry Plummer out for the season and Beauden Barrett sitting out a mandatory 10 days after a head knock, only Steven Perofeta remained of their contracted players.

But the necessity to have first five-eighths covered has resulted in MacDonald taking a chance on an unsung replacement.

Jock McKenzie has come in as back-up at first five-eighths, fresh from playing cricket for a New Zealand XI against the Netherlands. He had trained with the Blues until they left for Queenstown before leaving them to play some cricket.

"He's a very good cricketer as well, a talented sportsmen who has come in from the cricket pitch and into the Blues," MacDonald said.

"It's a quick turnaround for him, and hopefully, he'll remember what game he is playing, although he will find out pretty quickly when he gets on the park.

"He's smart. He reads the game well. He's got a big left foot. He's brave, and his Bronco time is similar to Beauden, so he's fit and a natural leader.

"It's a quick learning curve for him," he said.

McKenzie rejoined the side after Plummer was injured.

The two games against the Super Rugby newcomers have plenty riding on them for both teams.

"This a big game that will hopefully become a derby that we look forward to every year, MacDonald said.

"It's a different picture to what we've seen, and as a coach it is a new challenge for us," he said.

German-born Anton Segner will play at No.8, with Adrian Choat on the openside and Taine Plumtree on the blindside. Segner was capable of playing in each of the loose positions, as MacDonald found when assessing his players for the Blues squad.

Hoskins Sotutu and skipper Dalton Papalii were rested to get over their physical games against the Highlanders on Saturday to be ready for Saturday's return game against Moana Pasifika.

"A lot of our guys had come straight out of Covid into a game under the roof which was physical and fast, and they're spent," he said.

"There's niggles, there's ice packs everywhere, and it doesn't make sense to roll them back out again. We want them to play well in the following weekend," he said.

The captaincy will be in the hands of the experienced lock Luke Romano, and that was a reflection of the way he had fitted into the Blues and his relationship with the younger players, MacDonald said.

"It's a natural fit for him," he said.


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