Several players with minor niggles or on All Black leave, who missed the Super Round in Melbourne, have joined the team for Friday’s clash. They include captain Dalton Papalii, top try-scorer and hooker Kurt Eklund and props Ofa Tuungafasi and Alex Hodgman who celebrates his 50th cap for the Blues.
Experienced lock Luke Romano will start while the team also welcomes back Akira Ioane, one of the All Black standouts on the northern tour late last year, who has been sidelined for eight weeks with a foot injury.
In-form All Blacks in halfback Finlay Christie and wing Caleb Clarke also return to join a strong backline hinged by Beauden Barrett and Roger Tuivasa-Sheck.
Internationals Rieko Ioane, Nepo Laulala and Hoskins Sotutu are All Blacks rest week while abrasive loose forward Tom Robinson is spelled after a minor knock in last weekend’s clash against the Fijian Drua. They are replaced with the experienced Bryce Heem moving out to centre, Akira Ioane coming in for Robinson and the exciting newcomer Anton Segner at No 8.
Head coach Leon MacDonald is under no illusions that Friday night’s clash will be another tough encounter.
“This is a well-respected rugby region and we know it is an extremely hard place to come and be successful,” said MacDonald. “We are aware they were hit with Covid, as all the New Zealand teams have experienced, but equally they are freshened after not playing last week.
“We have huge respect for the Force and for both the rugby in general in Western Australia and the tremendous support the game gets in this part of the world.”
MacDonald said he is pleased to welcome back some key players and is looking for a more structured performance from his side.
“We played a little into the Drua’s hands last weekend, and we know we will need to be more assertive at set-piece and at the collision but at the same time ensure our defence is both aggressive but disciplined.
“While we are obviously pleased to have won a bunch of games on the trot, believe me, we are not looking at the points table. The focus continues to be session-by-session, day-by-day and game-by-game.”
The game kicks off at 11.59pm on Friday (NZ time).
The Blues team to play the Western Force in Perth is (with Blues caps in brackets):
1. Alex Hodgman (49)
2. Kurt Eklund (31)
3. Ofa Tuungafasi (114)
4. Luke Romano (8)
5. Sam Darry (12)
6. Akira Ioane (88)
7. Dalton Papalii© (51)
8. Anton Segner (4)
9. Finlay Christie (24)
10. Beauden Barrett (12)
11. Caleb Clarke (32)
12. Roger Tuivasa-Sheck (5)
13. Bryce Heem (14)
14. AJ Lam (15)
15. Zarn Sullivan (12)
16. Ricky Riccitelli (7)
17. Karl Tu’inukuafe (36)
18. Marcel Renata (5)
19. James Tucker (6)
20. Adrian Choat (13)
21. Taufa Funaki (5)
22. Tanielu Tele’a (19)
23. Mark Telea (33)
Players not considered: Harry Plummer, Sam Nock, Rieko Ioane, Hoskin Sotutu, Nepo Laulala, Tom Robinson, Stephen Perofeta.