Leon MacDonald backs his ‘baby’ Blues for Super Rugby Pacific round-robin final

Make of it what you will – and the waiting Waratahs will certainly have their own opinion – but Leon MacDonald is adamant that his “baby” Blues going to Sydney to finish the regular season of Super Rugby Pacific isn’t just smart to do, but the exciting option to boot.

if predicted by stuff on Tuesday, the Blues are very much playing the long game at Leichardt Oval on Saturday night in a match that has no points table for the little prime ministers. With nothing to gain and a lot to lose this weekend – despite a 12-game win that can extend them into record territory – reflects MacDonald’s stance on making the journey across the ditch.

German 20-year-old Anton Segner is the only player to back up from the starting shift after last Saturday’s 21-19 nail-biter over the Brumbies in Canberra, and a laundry list of heavy hitters will remain in Auckland to help advance from Saturday night’s home quarter-final (probably against the Highlanders).

Of course, some will argue that they have no respect for the Waratahs who are engaged in a close battle for places 5-7. And some might suggest that the Blues risk throwing away form, momentum and confidence en route to a quarter-final by essentially selecting a B-team (for baby).

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But MacDonald, who is adamant that the Blues maintain a “healthy respect” for the 8-5′ Tahs, prefers to take a perspective based more on the players he has chosen, rather than those who stay behind.

“It was not a difficult decision as we have seen a lot of good evidence on the training ground around these guys,” said the head coach who took his team to a new level in 2022 on the back of last year’s trans-Tasman. triumph. “We have a lot of confidence in them. There’s still plenty for us to play for… we don’t want to lose momentum and we’re going there to win.

Rookie first five Jock McKenzie will make his first start for the Blues against the Waratahs in Sydney on Saturday night.

Phil Walter/Getty Images

Rookie first five Jock McKenzie will make his first start for the Blues against the Waratahs in Sydney on Saturday night.

“With that in mind, we thought it was a great opportunity to get some fresh legs in and some real excitement to get the job done. There’s a good chance a lot of the guys playing over the weekend will be involved in the playoffs at some point. This gives them that critical playing time.”

The front five retain a graying disposition with whore Ricky Riccitelli, prop Nepo Laulala and locks Luke Romano (who will lead the side) and Josh Goodhue (back from a broken thumb). After that, it gets greener than Kermit.

Young Jock McKenzie will make his first start, and his second appearance, at number 10, Corey Evans and Tamati Tua form an untried midfield (five appearances combined) and the loose trio of Adrian Choat, Segner and Taine Plumtree will have to do their job against Michael Hooper and co.

Asked about the spin-offs for leaving players who have carried a heavy burden in Auckland, MacDonald felt they were twofold.

“We have guys with rib and shoulder injuries who haven’t had time to exhale. It’s been a hectic year, we missed a day and guys made a lot of minutes. Some guys are out too late to freshen up the bodies,” he said.

“Another advantage is that we have guys who want to play in the play-offs. This is a chance to put some pressure on them and show what they can deliver. Competition is something we talk about all the time, and this will keep that alive.”

Overall, the Blues are well on their way to the quarterfinals. Comeback boy Caleb Clarke is out at least the semi-finals (if they get that far) with his hamstring injury, but Rieko Ioane is ready to go back to work after his own hammy flare-up, his older brother’s foot is well enough to allow him a canter off the bench on Saturday, the adaptable Tom Robinson is back on deck and Goodhue returns in time to offer another second-row option.

While the approaching finals get a lot of talk, MacDonald says his focus remains firmly on finishing the regular season in style. His baby Blues will get that chance on Saturday, and it’s no laughing matter.

Waratas: Ben Donaldson, Mark Nawaqanitawase, Alex Newsome, Lalakai Foketi, Dylan Pietsch, Tane Edmed, Jake Gordon (c); Will Harris, Michael Hooper, Charlie Gamble, Ned Hanigan, Jed Holloway, Archer Holz, Dave Porecki, Angus Bell. Reservations: Mahe Vailanu, Tetera Faulkner, Paddy Ryan, Hugh Sinclair, Jeremy Williams, Rahboni Warren-Vosayaco, Jack Grant, Jamie Roberts.

Blues: Zarn Sullivan, Jacob Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens, Tamati Tua, Corey Evans, AJ Lam, Jock McKenzie, Sam Nock; Taine Plumtree, Adrian Choat, Anton Segner, Josh Goodhue, Luke Romano (c), Nepo Laulala, Ricky Riccitelli, Jordan Lay. Reservations: Soane Vikena, Karl Tu’inukuafe, Marcel Renata, Sam Darry, Cameron Suafoa, Akira Ioane, Taufa Funaki, Nigel Ah Wong.

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