First games at Eden Park are always a test for the home side, will they signal the start of a revival in fortunes after years of waiting and after meeting the Crusaders first-up on Saturday night they and their fans will have a better idea.
Match Details: Blues v Crusaders, Eden Park, Auckland, 7.35pm, February 16, 2019
Won: Blues 11, Crusaders 21
Last time: Blues 17-54 Crusaders, AMI Stadium, Christchurch, July 14, 2018
Referee: Nick Briant
It’s happened before and not proven significant in the final scheme of things so the Blues won’t be getting carried away with wins in their two warm-up games, they know that means nothing. The Crusaders won one and lost one in their warm-ups, with an impressive last quarter effort, typically, to deny the Highlanders a win.
MILESTONE FOR AKIRA IOANE
It’s a measure of the commitment No.8 Akira Ioane has made to the Blues that he will register his 50th game for the side on Saturday, 49 of them Super Rugby games, and the other a win over the British & Irish Lions in 2017. He played every Super game for the side in the last two seasons. Even more significant is that centre Ma’a Nonu will play his 161st Super Rugby game, making him the most experienced player in the competition. On the other end of the scale first five-eighths Otere Black will finally get to make his debut, having missed what should have been his first season for the side last year due to injury. Harry Plummer has won the five-eighths back-up spot in place of the injured Stephen Perofeta.
MASTER AND THE APPRENTICE
Braydon Ennor gets a first start at centre for the Crusaders in the absence of Jack Goodhue but finds himself up against Ma’a Nonu. The choice of Ennor will be watched closely. It was at centre that he made such an impact with the New Zealand Under-20s two years ago and where he showed so much potential, especially in setting up his outsides. It is possibly one of the rare chances he will have to start in the role this season so can be expected to try and make the most of it. Also looking to seize his chance will be substitute fullback Will Jordan who was denied his Super debut last year due to injury but who, like Ennor, made his impact with the NZ U-20 world champions two years ago. The Crusaders machine still keeps pumping out exciting talent.
If the Blues can record a win over the Crusaders it will be their first back-to-back wins at home since April 2017. They beat the Reds in their final home game of last season.
The Crusaders will be looking to make it nine consecutive wins over the Blues who have earned only one competition point from their last three home games against the Super Rugby champions. The last time the Blues beat the Crusaders at Eden Park was in February 2014.
Blues: 1.Alex Hodgman, 2.James Parsons, 3.Sione Mafileo, 4.Patrick Tuipulotu (captain), 5.Josh Goodhue, 6.Tom Robinson, 7.Dalton Papalii, 8.Akira Ioane, 9.Jonathan Ruru, 10.Otere Black, 11.Rieko Ioane, 12.TJ Faiane, 13.Ma’a Nonu, 14.Melani Nanai, 15.Michael Collins.
Substitutes: 16.Matt Moulds, 17.Karl Tu’inukuafe, 18.Ofa Tu’ungafasi, 19.Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, 20.Matt Matich, 21.Augustine Pulu, 22.Harry Plummer, 23.Sonny Bill Williams.
Crusaders: 1.Joe Moody, 2.Andrew Makalio, 3.Owen Franks, 4.Scott Barrett, 5.Quinten Strange, 6.Jordan Taufua, 7.Matt Todd (captain), 8.Whetukamokamo Douglas, 9.Bryn Hall, 10.Richie Mo’unga, 11.George Bridge, 12.Ryan Crotty, 13.Braydon Ennor, 14.Manasa Mataele, 15.David Havili.
Substitutes: 16.Ben Funnell, 17.Tim Perry, 18.Michael Alaalatoa, 19.Luke Romano, 20.Tom Sanders, 21.Mitchell Drummond, 22.Mitchell Hunt, 23.Will Jordan.