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Super Rugby Preview: Blues v Waratahs

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Thursday, April 4, 2019    Lynn McConnell    Getty Images

Match Details: Blues v Waratahs, 7.35pm, Eden Park, Auckland, April 6, 2019

Played: 23
Won: Blues 15, Waratahs 8
Last time: Waratahs 21-24 Blues, Brookvale Oval, Manly, May 5, 2018
Referee: Frederico Anselmi

FORM

After losing their first three games, to the Crusaders (22-24), the Sharks (7-26a) and the Jaguares (19-23a), the Blues have fashioned a three-game streak beating the Sunwolves (28-20), the Highlanders (33-26) and the Stormers (24-9), all at home. The Waratahs started with a 19-20 home loss to the Hurricanes but then had a 31-30 away against the Sunwolves and a 28-17 home win over the Reds. They lost to the Brumbies 13-19 but then beat the Crusaders 20-12 but lost their last game to the Sunwolves 29-31 in Newcastle.

COMPETITION A BOOST

It's the big question of the New Zealand Conference, have the Blues turned the corner? It may take a few more games to determine that but the Waratahs will be a good test of how far the side has come. Certainly it hasn't had the injury issues of the past few seasons and the competition for places is a factor in their success. Coach Leon MacDonald said, "There's a settled look to this team but that is not to say there is not competition. There's competition for virtually every spot in the starting line-up which is what we want – and it is helping to produce competitive and high quality ratings. If the starters do their job well, then they earn the right to stay there. We have already highlighted that while we want our starts to set the platform, equally one of our strengths is the energy we get off the bench to help us finish strongly."

CONSISTENCY LACKING

Consistency has not been one of the key elements of the Waratahs' season as seen from the ability to beat the Crusaders one week and then lose to the Sunwolves another. Missing from the line-up for Saturday is captain and openside flanker Michael Hooper while midfield back Kurtley Beale will be on the bench. Will Miller will play in Hooper's place with Karmichael Hunt in the midfield. Coach Daryl Gibson said it was important that players be rested, they couldn't play 16 games straight and expect to be at their best for the international season. Hooper has played every minute of the season and with a bye next week it was seen as a chance to give him a complete break. "He's played just about every minute of our last six games, so it's a good opportunity for him and he's going to be really firing going into the Rebels game coming off the bye," he said.

THE SCOOP

The Blues have won their last three games against the Waratahs, their only previous longer run was when putting five wins together between 1996-2000, the first five years of the competition.

FAST FACT

It is more than 10 years since the Waratahs last beat the Blues in New Zealand. The 27-22 win they achieved in March 2009 remains the only time they have beaten the Blues in Auckland.

TEAMS:

Blues: 1.Alex Hodgman, 2.James Parsons, 3.Sione Mafileo, 4.Patrick Tuipulotu (co-captain), 5.Josh Goodhue, 6.Tom Robinson, 7.Blake Gibson (co-captain), 8.Akira Ioane, 9.Jonathan Ruru, 10.Otere Black, 11.Rieko Ioane, 12.Ma'a Nonu, 13.TJ Faiane, 14.Caleb Clarke, 15.Melani Nanai.

Substitutes: 16.Matt Moulds, 17.Marcel Renata, 18.Ofa Tuungafasi, 19.Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, 20.Dalton Papalii, 21.Sam Nock, 22.Harry Plummer, 23.Michael Collins.

Waratahs: 1.Harry Johnson-Holmes, 2.Damien Fitzpatrick, 3.Sekope Kepu, 4.Ned Hannigan, 5.Rob Simmons, 6.Jack Dempsey, 7.Will Miller, 8.Michael Wells, 9.Nick Phipps, 10.Bernard Foley, 11.Alex Newsome, 12.Karmichael Hunt, 13.Adam Ashley-Cooper, 14.Cam Clark, 15.Israel Folau.

Substitutes: 16.Andrew Tuala, 17.Rory O'Connor, 18.Chris Talakai, 19.Tom Staniforth, 20.Lachlan Swinton, 21.Jack Gordon, 22.Kurtley Beale, 23.Lalakai Foketi.