Blues vs Crusaders team news ahead of Super Rugby face-off

Crusaders celebrate

The Blues have handed the rugged and mobile Adrian Choat a crack at blindside flanker in Saturday’s final rematch against the Crusaders at Eden Park.

With Akira Ioane out for another month or so with a knee injury and Tom Robinson moved into the second row (bench duty this week) to cover for the absence of Patrick Tuipulotu and Sam Darry, who both also have knee problems, coach Leon MacDonald has gone for twin No 7s in the form of skipper Dalton Papalii and Choat on the side of his scrum.

He’s also brought former All Black Alex Hodgman in to start at loosehead prop and called up James Tucker to partner Cameron Suafoa in the second row, with Robinson set to slot in off the bench on Saturday.

The backline features just one change from the side that held on for a 25-19 victory over the Hurricanes in Wellington last Saturday to improve to 2-1 for the season. All Black Mark Telea returns after a week off on the right wing to complete an all-international unit.

The bench features hooker Soane Vikena, prop Jordan Lay, loosie Taine Plumtree and utility back Zarn Sullivan all set to make their first appearances for 2023.

Saturday’s match is the first meeting between the two teams since last year’s final where the Crusaders stunned the Blues 21-7 on Eden Park to snap their 15-match win streak, and grab a sixth consecutive title.

The Crusaders will be without vice-captain David Havili (shoulder) for their crunch match against the Blues, but a bevy of rested All Blacks have returned for the heavyweight showdown.

Richie Mo’unga, Leicester Fainga’anuku, Ethan Blackadder, Codie Taylor and Joe Moody are all back in the starting side after a week off, while halfback Mitchell Drummond and hooker Brodie McAlister also return to the 23.

With Havili joining fellow All Blacks midfielder Jack Goodhue (groin) on the sideline for at least a few weeks, head coach Scott Robertson has named Dallas McLeod to start alongside centre Braydon Ennor.

Plagued by a rotten run of injuries – the Crusaders are without eight key players – that leaves Fainga’anuku and Sevu Reece covering the midfield, while All Blacks loosehead prop George Bower will cover tighthead in the aftermath of losing Fletcher Newell (foot) for the season.

Wellington wing Pepesana Patafilo, having recovered from an ankle injury suffered during pre-season, is set for his Crusaders debut off the bench.

BLUES: Stephen Perofeta, Mark Telea, Rieko Ioane, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, Caleb Clarke, Beauden Barrett, Finlay Christie; Hoskins Sotutu, Dalton Papalii (c), Adrian Choat, Cameron Suafoa, James Tucker, James Lay, Ricky Riccitelli, Alex Hodgman.

Reserves: Soane Vikena, Jordan Lay, Nepo Laulala, Tom Robinson, Taine Plumtree, Taufa Funaki, Bryce Heem, Zarn Sullivan.

CRUSADERS: Fergus Burke, Sevu Reece, Braydon Ennor, Dallas McLeod, Leicester Fainga’anuku, Richie Mo’unga, Mitchell Drummond, Sione Havili Talitui, Tom Christie, Ethan Blackadder, Sam Whitelock, Scott Barrett (c), Tamaiti Williams, Codie Taylor, Joe Moody.

Reserves: Brodie McAlister, Kershawl Sykes-Martin, George Bower, Zach Gallagher, Christian Lio-Willie, Willi Heinz, Pepesana Patafilo, Macca Springer.

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