- Blues v Chiefs
- Friday 31 January, 7.05pm at Eden Park, Auckland
- Played: 32
- Won: Blues 11, Chiefs 20, 1 draw
- Last match: Blues 23, Chiefs 8 (18 May 2019)
The 2020 season starts with a bang when the Blues host old rivals the Chiefs at Eden Park. The Blues picked up a 23-8 win in their last clash against the Chiefs, snapping a 15-game winless run against their near neighbours.
All Blacks flyer Rieko Ioane will play his 50th game for the Blues in their Super Rugby opener against the Chiefs at Eden Park on Friday.
Ioane, 22, made his Super Rugby debut five years ago and in that time has amassed 33 tries for the Auckland-based outfit, along with earning 26 caps for the All Blacks.
He will make his first appearance for the season on the left wing, with England representative Joe Marchant to make his debut for the Blues at outside centre.
The 23-year-old Marchant, who plays for Premiership club Harlequins, is one of four starters to make their Blues debut including hooker Kurt Eklund, USA World Cup representative Tony Lamborn at loose forward and North Harbour winger Mark Telea. Others who could debut off the bench include Samoan World Cup player Ray Niuia and exciting Bay of Plenty outside back, Emoni Narawa.
Blues head coach Leon Macdonald is pleased with the hard work that has gone into a truncated pre-season, and the team is excited to get the Super Rugby season underway on home turf at the spiritual home of rugby at Eden Park.
“The boys are proud to represent the club, the jersey and our region in this new season, and we are excited about the season ahead,” he said.
“Selection for this team is probably the toughest one that I have had in my time at the Blues, with a number of other players pushing hard for this first team. We have been pleased with the level of commitment, competition and performance, and especially from a number of new players to our club.”
MacDonald said Rieko Ioane would get his opportunity to play in the midfield as the season progresses but in his first outing this year, will play in his accustomed role on the left wing.
Eklund’s high-tempo displays in training and pre-season warranted a start while Lamborn brings a hard-working and uncompromising approach to the loose forward effort.
In the backs Marchant has fitted quickly into the club and its systems, while 21-year-old Telea is a hard running and elusive wing from North Harbour who continues to grow his game.
MacDonald said several young players have earned their chances with the form they have shown in training and pre-season matches, including the likes of Telea, Narawa, Eklund and also Hoskins Sotutu, who has earned his first start for the Blues at number eight.
“We have some genuine competition across the squad and Hoskins has impressed us with his fitness and approach this season and really demanded his opportunity with his pre-season play,” he added.
“He is a product of our development programme through the grades, a second-generation Blues player from the family and has worked hard for his opportunity.”
MacDonald is also looking at the side’s overall mobility with the decision to start Tom Robinson at lock, after his impressive pre-season.
There is a strong look to the bench that includes All Blacks Ofa Tuungafasi and Karl Tu’inukuafe, Samoan international Ray Niuia.
There are several players with minor injuries who are not available for the opening round including James Parsons (back), Otere Black (rib), Finlay Christie (neck), Gerard Cowley-Tuioti (shoulder), Ezekiel Lindenmuth, Jared Page, Tanielu Tele’a while James Tucker is waiting on scan results on an injured knee.
Chiefs head coach Warren Gatland has named his side to face the Blues in their opening game of the 2020 Super Rugby season at Eden Park on Friday.
The selected 23 will see three debutants in Waikato centre Quinn Tupaea and Bay of Plenty fly-half Kaleb Trask named in the starting XV, and Wellington lock Naitoa Ah Kuoi hoping to debut off the bench.
The front-row will feature loosehead prop Aidan Ross pack down alongside All Blacks tighthead prop Nepo Laulala and hooker Samisoni Taukei’aho. Tyler Ardron and Mitchell Brown will be the starting lock duo with debutant Ah Kuoi covering on the bench. In the back-row, Lachlan Boshier and Mitchell Karpik will be at six and seven respectively, with Chiefs captain Sam Cane packing down at number eight.
In the backs, scrum-half Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi will combine with 21-year-old Trask at 10. In the midfield, Alex Nankivell will don the number 12 jersey, with Tupaea named at outside centre. A familiar back three will start with Solomon Alaimalo on the left wing and Sean Wainui on the right and crafty full-back Damian McKenzie to complete an exciting backline.
Chiefs rookie hooker Bradley Slater will be joined by an experienced bench of props in All Blacks Atu Moli and Angus Ta’avao. Pita Gus Sowakula will provide back-row cover. Backline cover will feature a ton of experience in All Black Brad Weber, returning fly-half Aaron Cruden and All Black midfielder Anton Lienert-Brown.
Gatland said he was looking forward to seeing a competitive battle between the northern rivals.
“We have an exciting squad and we believe the team we have chosen reflects this. It is a great opportunity for our rookies to pull on the Gallagher Chiefs jersey for the first time in what is expected to be a great competitive derby between two rival sides. We know the Blues will be a good sturdy challenge first up but one the boys and fans are excited about.”
Blues: 15 Matt Duffie, 14 Mark Telea, 13 Joe Marchant, 12 TJ Faiane, 11 Rieko Ioane, 10 Stephen Perofeta, 9 Jonathan Ruru, 8 Hoskins Sotutu, 7 Tony Lamborn, 6 Dalton Papalii, 5 Tom Robinson, 4 Patrick Tuipulotu (c), 3 Sione Mafileo, 2 Kurt Eklund, 1 Alex Hodgman
Replacements: 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
Chiefs: 15 Shaun Stevenson, 14 Sean Wainui, 13 Quinn Tupaea, 12 Alex Nankivell, 11 Solomon Alaimalo, 10 Kaleb Trask, 9 Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, 8 Sam Cane (c), 7 Mitchell Karpik, 6 Lachlan Boshier, 5 Mitchell Brown, 4 Tyler Ardron, 3 Nepo Laulala, 2 Samisoni Taukei’aho, 1 Aidan Ross
Replacements: 16 Bradley Slater, 17 Atu Moli, 18 Angus Ta’avao, 19 Naitoa Ah Kuoi, 20 Pita Gus Sowakula, 21 Brad Weber, 22 Aaron Cruden, 23 Anton Lienert-Brown
Date: Friday, January 31
Venue: Eden Park, Auckland
Kick-off: 19:05 local (06:05 GMT)
Referee: Angus Gardner (Australia)
Assistant referees: Paul Williams (New Zealand), Dan Waenga (New Zealand)
TMO: Aaron Paterson (New Zealand)