MacDonald surprises with first Blues selection

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Hooker Kurt Eklund, flanker Tony Lamborn (pictured), English centre Joe Marchant and wing Mark Telea are the new starters while hooker reserve Ray Niuia and back Emoni Narawa will debut off the bench.


Tom Robinson has been named at lock, Hoskins Sotutu has been preferred at No.8 to Akira Ioane while Harlequins midfielder Joe Marchant will start at centre. The game will be Rieko Ioane's 50th cap for the Blues.


Knowing the pressure was on for the entertainment dollar in Auckland, coach Leon MacDonald, starting his second season with the side, said there was an awareness they needed to be playing a type of rugby, consistently, that fans could connect with was important.


Those fans wanted to see the side play with heart and as a team who played for each other and for the region.



"People will come and watch when they know we are going to give our all for them so that's important for us this year, it drives us to perform and it drives the way we train.

"So we understand the challenging environment out there in terms of crowds et cetera but we can take care of our business on the training field firstly and get out there and perform week in and week out then I know the fans will turn up and support us," he said.


MacDonald was delighted with the growth he had seen in Tuipulotu as captain and while every team went through changes in leadership he was confident a good group was emerging within the Blues to provide good support.


"We're investing in that space and spending a lot of time developing our leaders and so far the signs have been really good," he said.


There had been a lot of tough calls in the selection across the team. They didn't know who was going to partner Tuipulotu at lock, how the loose forwards were going to shape and how their midfield would look.


"We had a number of decisions to make," he said.



They were conscious they hadn't had the competition for places they would have wanted last year and as a result a lot of players were used more than might have been good for them and there was a form dip towards the end of the season.


So having competition across the squad was very important for the whole campaign, a point hit home in the selection choices for the Chiefs contest.


Akira Ioane had been one of the tough calls made. He had been unlucky, MacDonald said. He had trained well, was in good condition, fit and hungry but in a reflection of the competition within the squad, Sotutu had been one of the stand-outs during the pre-season.


"It's a little bit of a luxury to have two quality players to choose from and we said to the squad that form was critical in the pre-season and we're rewarding Hoskins for being outstanding," he said.


The pressure had already had an impact on Ioane and that was obvious in his training, MacDonald said. He wouldn't like not playing and as a competitor he would continue to put up his hand and keep the pressure on.


The Blues team is: 1.Alex Hodgman, 2.Kurt Eklund, 3.Sione Mafileo, 4.Patrick Tuipulotu (captain), 5.Tom Robinson, 6.Dalton Papalii, 7.Tony Lamborn, 8.Hoskins Sotutu, 9.Jonathan Ruru, 10.Stephen Perofeta, 11.Rieko Ioane, 12.TJ Faiane, 13.Joe Marchant, 14.Mark Telea, 15.Matt Duffie.


Substitutes: 16.Ray Niuia, 17.Karl Tu'inukuafe, 18.Ofa Tuungafasi, 19.Josh Goodhue, 20.Blake Gibson, 21.Sam Nock, 22.Harry Plummer, 23.Emoni Narawa.




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