Papalii back as Blues captain

Roger Tuivasa-Sheck looks for support during the Blues v Hurricanes, Round 2 of the Super Rugby Pacific rugby union competition at Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin, New Zealand. Photo: Derek Morrison /

The Blues welcome back their captain Dalton Papalii as the square against the Chiefs in the Super Rugby Pacific competition at Eden Park.

The team, which is returning to Auckland on Thursday from its temporary base in Queenstown, is almost the same combination that was pipped 33-32 in the first outing against the Hurricanes.

The only changes to the starting line-up sees Papalii back to full fitness on the openside flank, and NPC player of the year, Stephen Perofeta to start at fullback.

The pack has a strong look with Alex Hodgman, Nepo Laulala, Luke Romano, Hoskins Sotutu and Papalii all having worn the All Black jersey.

“The team is looking forward to returning home to their families, although we have some strict protocols in place to keep as safe as possible from the covid virus,” said head coach Leon MacDonald.

“For over 70 minutes we were pleased with the rugby that the boys played. On the plus side, it was our first game and we will be better for that run, although the boys clearly understand that the game is played over 80 minutes.

“There were a lot of things we did well, but we will need to keep improving every game, especially with the challenge the Chiefs present with a strong pack and talent across the field.”

The game will be played without a crowd.

Highlanders name team to play the Hurricanes

The biggest change to the Highlands’ line-up comes at halfback with Folau Fakatava pulling on the No.9 jersey and All Black Aaron Smith dropping to the bench.

Saturday’s game will be played under the red light setting with a limited crowd in attendance in what will be a small step towards normality.

Smith’s move to the bench provides another opportunity for Fakatava having only had a handful of starts in his time with the Highlanders.

Newcomer Liam Coombes-Fabling debuts on the left wing after joining the team three weeks ago as an injury replacement player.

“This is a good opportunity for Fakatava while we manage Nuggie’s load and we’re looking forward to seeing how he goes. We know we’re going to benefit from Nug’s leadership, speed, and energy when he comes on,” Head Coach Tony Brown said.

Folau Fakatava scores a try for the Highlanders

Folau Fakatava scores a try for the Highlanders Photo: Photosport

“Liam has earned his opportunity with three good weeks of training. He has a high work rate and provides an X-factor on the edge.”

A settled forward pack sees only one change within the starting team with Bryn Evans coming into the left lock position and Manaaki Selby-Rickit moving to the bench. Both Ethan de Groot and James Lentjes have been cleared to play.

Powerful young prop Saula Ma’u has been named on the bench.

Source: RNZ