Papalii to bring up 50th cap against Chiefs

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As a testament to his resilience, the 24-year-old will earn his 50th cap midway through just his fifth season for the Blues since his debut in 2018.

The Blues welcome back some experienced players for the clash including All Blacks Beauden Barrett, Ofa Tuungafasi, Rieko Ioane and Hoskins Sotutu along with regular lock Josh Goodhue and key loose forward Tom Robinson, all in the starting line-up.

With 142 Super games to his credit, Luke Romano’s experience, as well as exceptional form in recent weeks, earn him a fifth start, while at the other end of the spectrum, the suspension to Caleb Clarke means a start for flyer Jacob Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens, 20, who impressed in both games against Moana-Pasifika.

It is expected to be tight battle between the two neighbours after the Blues edged the Chiefs 24-22 at Eden Park earlier in the season.

“We are expecting another tough and closely fought match as is always the case between us,” said Blues head coach Leon MacDonald.

“We have come through three games in a week which will be a test of our conditioning and fortitude, and with some players back from injury and illness, there are some unknowns for us.

“But we do know that we will need to be on top of our game for the full 80 minutes. We will need to be physical, accurate and disciplined.

“The team have plenty to play for, including a big effort for their captain who is a special player and fine young man who is developing into a complete rugby player.”

The match kicks off at 7.05pm on Saturday at FMG Stadium, Hamilton.

The team is (with Blues caps in brackets):

1. Alex Hodgman (47)

2. Kurt Eklund (29)

3. Ofa Tuungafasi (112)

4. Luke Romano (5)

5. Josh Goodhue (41)

6. Tom Robinson (37)

7. Dalton Papalii© (49)

8. Hoskins Sotutu (28)

9. Finlay Christie (23)

10. Beauden Barrett (9)

11. Mark Telea (30)

12. Bryce Heem (12)

13. Reiko Ioane (78)

14. Jacob Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens (4)

15. Stephen Perofeta (37)

RESERVES: 16. Ricky Riccitelli (4) 17. Jordan Lay (2) 18. Marcel Renata (24) 19. James Tucker (3) 20. Adrian Choat (10) 21. Sam Nock (45) 22. Tanielu Tele’a (17) 23. AJ Lam (12)

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