COVID outbreaks in the Blues, Highlanders, and Crusaders squads have forced New Zealand Rugby (NZR) to amend the DHL Super Rugby Pacific Round 5 schedule.
In their one and only game, Moana Pasifika produced a valiant effort against reigning Super Rugby Aotearoa Champions and only trailed by nine points with 10 minutes to play. However, true to form, the Crusaders ran in two tries in quick succession, leaving the final score at 33 to 12. Head Coach Aaron Mauger was proud of their historic performance.
“The work ethic on the field was fuelled by what this team stands for. It’s around serving our people, serving our ancestry and those that have gone before us. Being fuelled by passion and our families is something we are really proud of.”
The squad will make their much-anticipated return to Mount Smart Stadium, albeit without a crowd.
“We were excited to play the Hurricanes and would have benefited from the experience, but the right call was made to protect player welfare. This week we were preparing to play the Highlanders on Friday, instead we look forward to facing the challenge that the Chiefs will bring on our home ground.
“We have been focussing on fine tuning our execution. In the second half against the Crusaders, we had opportunities to put them under pressure and they started to feel it as well. We will be sharper this week against the Chiefs and will keep getting better” says Mauger.
There are three changes to the starting team that faced the Crusaders in Round 3. Hardworking Manu Samoa loose forward Alamanda Motuga is side-lined with a wrist injury which sees try scorer Solomone Funaki move from blindside to openside flanker. This makes way for ‘Ikale Tahi international Sione Tu’ipulotu to wear the number six jersey in his debut match.
A new 9 & 10 combination will be on show with Jonathan Taumateine and Christian Leali’ifano taking the reins from Ereatara Enari and Lincoln McClutchie respectively this week. With Moana Pasifika needing to play three rescheduled games at some point, Mauger felt it was important to rotate his game drivers.
“We have strong and healthy competition at both 9 & 10 and all of these men are putting their hand up at training and leading the growth in our game. As a coaching group we thought that both Ere and Lincoln were really sharp against the Crusaders with JT and Christian both performing well off the bench.”
"Although we have had plenty of disruptions recently we felt it was important to stick to our original plan and give Christian and JT the opportunity to start this week, they have both proven they are up for that challenge and we know that Ere and Lincoln will give us what we need later on the game in any given circumstance.” says Mauger.
Sekope Kepu will captain the team from tighthead prop in an unchanged front row. Super Rugby debutants Samuel Slade and Mike McKee impressed the coaches in the engine room and will combine in locking department once again. Hard-running Henry Time-Stowers will round out the starting forward pack and look to continue his fine form into this week’s game.
Blockbusting midfielders Danny Toala and Levi Aumua have another opportunity to create some magic on the pitch. An unchanged back three of Tima Fainga’anuku, Neria Foma’i and William Havili will look to bring some razzle to Mount Smart Stadium.
There is plenty of impact to come from the bench, including a potential debut for Hawke’s Bay Magpies loose forward Josh Kaifa, who comes in to the squad in place of Jack Lam.
Moana Pasifika team to play Chiefs
1: Ezekiel Lindenmuth
2: Luteru Tolai
3: Sekope Kepu (c)
4: Mike McKee
5: Samuel Slade
6: Sione Tu’ipulotu (Debut)
7: Solomone Funaki
8: Henry Time-Stowers
9: Jonathan Taumateine
10: Christian Leali'ifano
11: Neria Foma’i
12: Danny Toala
13: Levi Aumua
14: Tima Fainga’anuku
15: William Havili
RESERVES: Samiuela Moli, Taukiha’amea Koloamatagi, Joe Apikotoa, Alex McRobbie, Josh Kaifa (Debut), Ereatara Enari, Lincoln McClutchie, Fine Inisi