Nepo Laulala, Josh Goodhue Promoted as Blues Muscle for Super Rugby Pacific Semifinal

Few teams have pushed the Blues in 2022 like the Brumbies did in Round 14 of Super Rugby Pacific. That excruciating night in Canberra, which was only settled by a goal from Beauden Barrett in the death, sets an important backdrop for Saturday’s semi-final at Eden Park.

It has impacted the adjustments the Blues coaches have made to their lineup this week – bringing in Nepo Laulala and Josh Goodhue to bolster their tight five – and it has largely affected their preparation for what is expected to be a wet semi-final. . Three times Blues players crossed the line that cool night in the area, and three times they were unable to find grass when the desperate home side found a way to stay in the game despite a 16-5 penalty against them, two yellow cards and a mountain of possession in favor of the visitors.

the blues walked out of the park with the 21-19 win to maintain a winning streak that has now stretched to a franchise record of 14 from last Saturday’s 35-6 quarter-final defeat of the Highlanders, but only through the skin of their teeth. Despite all that ball and field position (the home side made more than twice as many tackles that night and the Kiwis ran more than twice as many yards), the Brumbies scored them three to two, with a brace of their signature riding style. maul.

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Therefore, Blues forward Tom Coventry was confident that his pack would meet his pack on Saturday night (kick-off 7:05 PM), when the predicted wet weather is expected to be favorable for the visitors. “They were damn good last time and probably had an edge over us at times. I know they’re pretty confident about the way they played against us and the upper hand they had on the podiums,” he said ahead of the training hit of Thursday at Alexandra Park.

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“We respect them deeply. They are a great side and have been a benchmark for Australian Super Rugby teams for a while now. We will have to be at our very best. We weren’t the last time, they’re going to have real confidence, and they have no reason not to.”

It’s an interesting line-up from Blues, who still miss skipper Dalton Papalii after his untimely appendicitis (he’s a tough shot at making the final should his team progress). The 23 has four locks, with Goodhue starting alongside the versatile Tom Robinson (who also provides loose forward cover) and gnarly veteran Luke Romano and James Tucker on the bench.

Coventry said that’s partly necessary (with Papalii and Anton Segner both unavailable), and partly planning for what’s to come.

Josh Goodhue is back on the second row of the Blues for the semifinals alongside the energetic Tom Robinson.

Matt King/Getty Images

Josh Goodhue is back on the second row of the Blues for the semifinals alongside the energetic Tom Robinson.

“Luke is doing quite well for us to finish games from the bench and with our two sevens out we are a little light there. James has played loose forward for Waikato over the years and with Tom there too I think we’re covered there. †

All Black tighthead prop Ofa Tuungafasi also pays the price for an off-night against the Highlanders’ Ethan de Groot by relinquishing the starting spot to Laulala.

“We were not happy with our scrum, so Ofga will play a different role,” Coventry added. “He was good off the bench when he had opportunities, and Nepo gets the start and will strengthen that side of the scrum for us.”

There were some who described the Brumbies’ approach as “cynical” in that round 14 game against the Blues, as they regularly infringed during a match where they tiptoed over the legal line. Coventry, however, saw it differently.

“They were ready and playing as close to the law as possible to keep themselves in the game. Physically at the breakdown is what most teams are looking for, and they were looking for that win line, playing on the edge and were punished for it I am sure they would have talked about their discipline and will probably be better there.

“We had three guys over the line, so we were responsible for not finishing in that game. A few things didn’t go well for both teams, and I’m sure all that will go away and we’ll start all over again.”

The Blues backline remains both in shape and settled. AJ Lam is the third rookie tweak after coming up early for Bruce Heem in the quarterfinals, and remains there after a stellar showing. Heme remains outside the HIA protocols.

“This is what we’ve worked so hard for all year,” added head coach Leon MacDonald. “This is the occasion you want to play – at our home, for our fans and family, against a worthy enemy for the chance to play in the final.”

Coventry confirmed that if the Blues got past their first semi-final since the 2011 defeat to the Reds in Brisbane, and their first final since the 2003 win over the Crusaders at Eden Park, Papalii, Caleb Clarke (hamstring) and Heem would to fetch. would all be opportunities to play. Coventry said Papalii and Clarke would be “touch and go”, while Heem was a firmer prospect.

Meanwhile, standout loose striker Rob Valentini returns to number 8 for the Brumbies after a hamstring injury, while Ollie Sapsford replaces suspended Len Ikitau in the centres.

Blues: Stephen Perofeta, AJ Lam, Rieko Ioane, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, Mark Telea, Beauden Barrett (capt), Finlay Christie; Hoskins Sotutu, Adrian Choat, Akira Ioane, Tom Robinson, Josh Goodhue, Nepo Laulala, Kurt Eklund, Alex Hodgman. Reservations: Soane Vikena, Karl Tu’inukuafe, Ofa Tuungafasi, Luke Romano, James Tucker, Sam Nock, Tamati Tua, Zarn Sullivan.

brumbies: Tom Banks, Tom Wright, Ollie Sapsford, Irae Simone, Andy Muirhead, Noah Lolesio, Nic White; Rob Valetini, Pete Samu, Tom Hooper, Cadeyrn Neville, Darcy Swain, Allan Alaalatoa (capt), Folau Fainga’a, James Slipper. Reservations: Lachlan Lonergan, Scott Sio, Sefo Kautai, Nick Frost, Luke Reimer, Jahrome Brown, Ryan Lonergan, Hudson Creighton.

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