Veteran centre Ma’a Nonu is set to make his return to Super Rugby with the Blues in their home clash against the defending champions on Saturday.
Sonny Bill Williams occupies a spot on the bench for the Blues as TJ Faiane partners with Nonu in midfield.
Nonu will come up against the Crusader’s exciting 21-year-old centre Braydon Ennor. Ennor is from Blues country having been born and raised in Auckland but a University scholarship sent him down to the South Island in 2015. He enjoyed a breakout season with Canterbury in last season’s Mitre 10 Cup winning side. Ennor made his Super Rugby debut in 2018 but is expected to play a bigger role in 2019.
Partnering Ennor is experienced All Black centre Ryan Crotty. The man who holds the All Black midfield together will have a similar task for the Crusaders with flashy players all around him.
One of those flashy chaps is the 2018 Champions flyhalf Richie Mo’unga. Mo’unga is so far the only starting Kiwi flyhalf who is an established face in Super Rugby with the Blues as well as the Chiefs, Highlanders and Hurricanes all naming hot prospects in the number ten jersey for the first round of games.
The Blues flyhalf is 23-year-old Otere Black whose promising career was stunted by a serious knee injury in 2017. Black remains a potential future All Black and his play could be the difference between success and failure for the Blues this term.
A combination of a serious talent drain and squad rotation gives the defending champs team something of a new look but up front the Crusaders have plenty of experience. Hooker Andrew Makalio will pack down with a pair of experienced All Black props either side of him in Owen Franks and Joe Moody.
The Blues don’t lack for front row experience either led by hooker James Parsons who will be joined in the front row by the not inconsiderable bulk of Sione Mafileo and Alex Hodgman
Kieran Read is not yet ready to return but when he does it will not be as captain with flanker Matt Todd appointed to the role for the 2019 season. Todd is partnered in the loose trio by the dynamic Jordan Taufua and Whetukamokamo Douglas. Douglas was named co-captain of the Canterbury side that would go on to win the Mitre Cup Premiership last season but missed most of the campaign with a fractured thumb.
Akira Ioane will start the Super Rugby season at the back of the Blues scrum and will make his fiftieth appearance for the franchise on Saturday.
The Blues skipper Patrick Tuipulotu is one of those leaders who inspires with his example and you can expect to see the massive lock carrying the ball and making huge tackles, despite his size the lock plays almost like a loose forward adding an extra dimension to his side’s play. Keep an eye out for him, he is hard to miss.
Super Rugby: Blues v Crusaders match squads
Blues: 15 Michael Collins, 14 Melani Nanai, 13 Ma’a Nonu, 12 TJ Faiane, 11 Rieko Ioane, 10 Otere Black, 9 Jonathan Ruru, 8 Akira Ioane, 7 Dalton Papalii, 6 Tom Robinson, 5 Josh Goodhue, 4 Patrick Tuipulotu (c), 3 Sione Mafileo, 2 James Parsons, 1 Alex Hodgman
Subs: 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: 15 David Havili, 14 Manasa Mataele, 13 Braydon Ennor, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 George Bridge, 10 Richie Mo’unga, 9 Bryn Hall, 8 Whetu Douglas, 7 Matt Todd (c), 6 Jordan Taufua, 5 Quinten Strange, 4 Scott Barrett, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Andrew Makalio, 1 Joe Moody
Subs: 16 Ben Funnell, 17 Tim Perry, 18 Michael Alaalatoa, 19 Luke Romano, 20 Tom Sanders, 21 Mitchell Drummond, 22 Mitchell Hunt, 23 Will Jordan
Venue: Eden Park, Auckland
Match date: Saturday 16 February
Kick off time: 08:35 SAST
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