Super Rugby Pacific: Akira Ioane set to make 100th appearance for Blues in derby with Crusaders

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Akira Ioane Blues v Brumbies SRP 2022 - PA.jpg Credit: Alamy
Akira Ioane Blues v Brumbies SRP 2022 - PA.jpg Credit: Alamy

All Blacks back-row Akira Ioane will play his 100th match for the Blues when he runs out against the Crusaders in their Super Rugby Pacific derby in Christchurch on Saturday.

The 27-year-old has been named on the replacements bench as loose forward cover as Blues head coach Leon MacDonald rings the changes to his run-on side after last weekend’s narrow victory over Moana Pasifika.

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First choice players return

Adrian Choat and Hoskins Sotutu return to join captain Dalton Papalii in the back-row while experienced All Black Patrick Tuipulotu links up with Sam Darry in the second-row.

Up front, Ricky Riccitelli is back at hooker and packs down alongside Marcel Renata and Ofa Tuungafasi, who are the starting props.

In the backline, Zarn Sullivan and Mark Telea are back in the starting XV to start at full-back and on the right wing respectively and Caleb Clarke continues on the left wing.

Harry Plummer shifts from fly-half to inside centre and forms a midfield combination with Rieko Ioane while Beauden Barrett is back in the number 10 jersey alongside Finlay Christie who starts at scrum-half.

The Blues are out for revenge after suffering a 34-28 defeat in the corresponding Super Rugby Pacific fixture in Round Four in Auckland.

MacDonald paid tribute to Ioane’s contribution to the Blues as he looked ahead to the clash down south.

“I want to congratulate Aki on reaching his 100-game milestone – a serious achievement and testament to the fact he’s kept his fitness and body in good order over many seasons,” said MacDonald.

“He showed his value last weekend against Moana Pasifika and we’ll be looking to him for impact down in Christchurch. His ball playing skills are well-documented and he often finds an offload where others can’t.”

Fans can expect an entertaining spectacle befitting of the third and fourth placed sides in the tournament, with the stats backing up the attacking pedigree of both teams.

The Blues have made the most line breaks – eight per game – of any team in this year’s competition and the Blues and Crusaders are in first and third position respectively in making attacking entries into the opposition 22.

“The stats suggest we’re going to see an exciting game of rugby and as this play-off race starts to get hot, all teams in that top four mix know the value of home advantage in the first week of the playoffs. A win on Saturday will keep us right in the mix for that top four,” added MacDonald.

Keen to replicate 2022 win in Christchurch

Papalii also acknowledged Ioane’s upcoming milestone and said the Blues want to to replicate their 2022 victory in Christchurch.

“Aki’s a true soldier for us and has been for many years. He’s the type of player you want next to you going into battle and it’s been a privilege to share a changing room with him over the years,” said Papalii.

“We know what we’re walking into down in Christchurch – it’s going to be physical. We know what it takes to win down there, and we can take confidence in the fact we’ve done it before.”

Blues: 15 Zarn Sullivan, 14 Mark Telea, 13 Rieko Ioane, 12 Harry Plummer, 11 Caleb Clarke, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 Finlay Christie, 8 Hoskins Sotutu, 7 Dalton Papalii (c), 6 Adrian Choat, 5 Sam Darry, 4 Patrick Tuipulotu, 3 Marcel Renata, 2 Ricky Riccitelli, 1 Ofa Tuungafasi
Replacements: 16 Kurt Eklund, 17 Jordan Lay, 18 James Lay, 19 Cameron Suafoa, 20 Akira Ioane, 21 Sam Nock, 22 Bryce Heem, 23 AJ Lam

Date: Saturday, May 13
Venue: Orangetheory Stadium, Christchurch
Kick-off: 19:05 local (08:05 BST, 07:05 GMT)
Referee: Nic Berry (Australia)
Assistant Referees: James Doleman (New Zealand), Jono Bredin (New Zealand)
TMO: Brett Cronan (Australia)

READ MORE: Super Rugby Pacific: Luke Jacobson to captain new-look Chiefs against Reds

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