Super Rugby Pacific: Akira Ioane named in Blues starting XV for Western Force clash

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 Credit: PA Images
Credit: PA Images

The Blues have received a shot in the arm with the news that Akira Ioane is set to make his first appearance of the inaugural Super Rugby Pacific campaign when they take on the Western Force in Perth on Friday.

Ioane has been sidelined for two months with a foot injury and will start on the blindside flank alongside Anton Segner, who packs down at number eight, and Dalton Papalii, who returns to captain the side from the openside flank.

50 up for Alex Hodgman

In other team news, hooker Kurt Eklund and props Ofa Tuungafasi and Alex Hodgman have also been recalled after missing the Blues‘ bonus-point victory over the Fijian Drua in last weekend’s Super Round in Melbourne. It will be a momentous occasion for Hodgman as he will play in his 50th match for the Auckland-based outfit.

The Blues also welcome back veteran second-row Luke Romano to their pack as well as scrum-half Finlay Christie and wing Caleb Clarke to the backline.

Fellow All Blacks Rieko Ioane, Nepo Laulala and Hoskins Sotutu are being rested with Bryce Heem taking Ioane’s spot at outside centre while Tuungafasi and Segner replace Laulala and Sotutu respectively at tighthead prop and number eight.

Blues head coach Leon MacDonald expects a tough challenge from the Force on their home turf.

“This is a well-respected rugby region and we know it is an extremely hard place to come and be successful,” he told the Blues’ official website. “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 is delighted to welcome back some key players and said he wants a more structured showing from his team.

“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,” he added.

“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.”

Blues: 15 Zarn Sullivan, 14 AJ Lam, 13 Bryce Heem, 12 Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, 11 Caleb Clarke, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 Finlay Christie, 8 Anton Segner, 7 Dalton Papalii (c), 6 Akira Ioane, 5 Sam Darry, 4 Luke Romano, 3 Ofa Tuungafasi, 2 Kurt Eklund, 1 Alex Hodgman
Replacements: 16 Ricky Riccitelli, 17 Karl Tu’inukuafe, 18 Marcel Renata, 19 James Tucker, 20 Adrian Choat, 21 Taufa Funaki, 22 Tanielu Tele’a, 23 Mark Telea

Date: Friday, April 29
Venue: HBF Park, Perth
Kick-off: 20:00 local (13:00 BST, 12:00 GMT)
Referee: Angus Gardner (Australia)
Assistant referees: Graham Cooper (Australia), Jordan Kaminski (Australia)
TMO: Kyle Burnett (Australia)

READ MORE: Super Rugby Pacific Team Tracker: Luke Jacobson to captain the Chiefs against Reds

The article Super Rugby Pacific: Akira Ioane named in Blues starting XV for Western Force clash appeared first on Planetrugby.com.

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