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Super Rugby Aotearoa Preview – Blues v Highlanders

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With a perfect record after two rounds Blues coach Leon MacDonald has kept faith in his players and kept the same starting XV from last weekend.

Winning their first two matches in the competition is great for the Blues but keeping that momentum is what is now needed specially in their last game before their bye.

This becomes even more important when you have to face the Crusaders in their own back yard after your bye week.

With MacDonald keeping faith in his troops it means that fans will have to wait a bit longer to see All Black great Dan Carter in the Blues jumper.

How great will it be if he gets his chance in two weeks against the Crusaders in Christchurch?

Last week bye may count against the Highlanders coming up against a Blues side this week that have huge momentum going into this game as we expect another huge crowd on the day.

With no changes to his starting XV, MacDonald has kept Otere Black at ten and Beauden Barrett at fifteen which have worked brilliantly for them this far.
On the bench for the Blues, Harry Plummer will get his chance later on in the match as well as Joe Marchant who will be in his final match for the Blues before going back to his Harlequins club in the UK.

Highlanders coach Aaron Mauger has only made one change to his starting XV with Scott Gregory starting at fullback in only his second game for the franchise.

The only other change for the Highlanders sees Punivai returning from injury and getting a chance from the bench.

Some Interesting Facts (OPTA)

  • The Highlanders have won 11 of their last 15 Super Rugby matches against the Blues (L4); although just four of those 11 wins have been by a double-digit margin.
  • The last eight Super Rugby matches between the Blues and Highlanders at Eden Park have seen each team pick up four wins apiece, despite the Highlanders leading at half-time in six of the games in that span.
  • The Blues have scored 30+ points in each of their last two Super Rugby home games (W2), the last time they scored 30+ points in more consecutive home games was a three-match span in 2014 (W3) which included a 30-12 win over the Highlanders.
  • The Highlanders defeated the Chiefs (28-27) in their opening game of Super Rugby Aotearoa and will out to secure back-to-back wins against fellow New Zealand opposition for the first time since June 2018.
  • The Blues have won their last three Super Rugby matches against fellow New Zealand teams, with each of those games seeing the teams separated by just a single point at half-time on the day.
  • Nine of the Highlanders’ last 11 completed Super Rugby away matches have been won by the team leading at half-time on the day, the Dunedin-based side picking up just two wins in that stretch (L9).
  • The Blues (21 in first quarter) are the only team to have scored 20+ points in any quarter of matches in this Super Rugby Aotearoa campaign so far.
  • The Highlanders won 11 turnovers last time out against the Chiefs, the last time they won 10+ in back-to-back games was Rounds 13 & 14 of the 2017 Super Rugby season.
  • The Blues’ Caleb Clarke (10) is the only player in Super Rugby Aotearoa (min. 2 appearances) with an average metres gained per carry in the double figures.
  • The Highlanders’ Shannon Frizell (3) is the only player to have made more than two offloads in this Super Rugby Aotearoa campaign so far.

Predictions: This is going to be a great match and we see the Blues to continue with their great run Blues by 6 points.

Teams:

Blues: 1.Alex Hodgman, 2.James Parsons, 3.Ofa Tuungafasi, 4.Patrick Tuipulotu (captain), 5.Josh Goodhue, 6.Akira Ioane, 7.Dalton Papalii, 8.Hoskins Sotutu, 9.Sam Nock, 10.Otere Black, 11.Caleb Clarke, 12.TJ Faiane, 13.Rieko Ioane, 14.Mark Telea, 15.Beauden Barrett.

Replacements: Kurt Eklund, 17.Marcel Renata, 18.Sione Mafileo, 19.Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, 20.Tony Lamborn, 21.Finlay Christie, 22.Harry Plummer, 23.Joe Marchant.

Highlanders: 1.Ayden Johnstone, 2.Ash Dixon (captain), 3.Siate Tokolahi, 4.Paripari Parkinson, 5.Josh Dickson, 6.Shannon Frizell, 7.Dillon Hunt, 8.Marino Mikaele Tu’u, 9.Aaron Smith, 10.Mitch Hunt, 11.Jona Nareki, 12.Patelesio Tomkinson, 13.Rob Thompson, 14.Sam Gilbert, 15.Scott Gregory.

Replacements: 16.Liam Coltman, 17.Daniel Lienert-Brown, 18.Jeff Thwaites, 19.Manaaki Selby-Rickit, 20.Teariki Ben-Nicholas, 21.Kayne Hammington, 22.Bryn Gatland, 23.Ngane Punivai.

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