Who will Remain Unbeaten? Highlanders Or Blues

Two undefeated teams will clash in front of a packed Eden Park as round three of Investec Super Rugby Aotearoa kicks off. The Blues have set Investec Super Rugby Aotearoa alight in the opening two rounds. After dispatching the Hurricanes at home in round one, the Blues picked up a big win on the road against the Chiefs to make it a club record of five wins away from home in a row. The Highlanders will be fresh after a bye last week and should ride into Auckland with plenty of confidence on the back of their last gasp victory over the Chiefs in round one.

There will be no shortage of pace and slippery moves out wide with All Blacks Sevens stars Caleb Clarke and Jona Nareki squaring off in the 11 jersey. With the fleet-footed Vilimoni Koroi out for the Highlanders, another sevens flyer steps into the fray in the form of Scott Gregory who will don the 15 jersey. Gregory said he was excited to take the opportunity. 

“It seems like a long time since my first game against the Rebels earlier in the year, and I am really looking forward to getting out there, with the talent we have in our backs you have to take your opportunities when you can,” Gregory said.

Blues coach Leon MacDonald stuck to his starting line-up for the third round of the Investec Super Rugby Aotearoa against the Highlanders at Eden Park on Saturday, with a 09.05 (SA Time) kick-off.

MacDonald said although a number of the squad have pressed hard for inclusion the current group continued to prove themselves, and the only change comes on the bench where England international Joe Marchant is included in what will be his final match for the Blues before returning to his Harlequins club in London.

“The whole squad are training hard, and our current starters are getting tested at every training session, which is what we want, this group of 23 continue to do the business. They are developing well to the style of game we want to play and adapting positively to the new rule emphasis, which will lead to a more exciting and fluid game," said MacDonald.

“It is the last game before our first bye which will allow us to reset for the next block of games.

Blues: 15. Beauden Barrett, 14. Mark Telea, 13. Rieko Ioane, 12. TJ Faiane, 11. Caleb Clarke, 10. Otere Black, 9. Sam Nock, 8. Hoskins Sotutu, 7. Dalton Papalii, 6. Akira Ioane, 5. Josh Goodhue, 4. Patrick Tuipulotu (c), 3. Ofa Tuungafasi, 2. James Parsons, 1. Alex Hodgman. Reserves: 16. Kurt Eklund, 17. Marcel Renata, 18. Sione Mafileo, 19. Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, 20. Tony Lamborn, 21. Finlay Christie, 22. Harry Plummer, 23. Joe Marchant.

Fresh off the bye and a first-round win against the Chiefs, head coach Aaron Mauger, has resisted making too many changes to the Highlanders team to play the Blues this weekend at 09:05 SA time at Eden Park.

Mauger made only one change to the starting lineup with Scott Gregory coming in at fullback to replace Vilimoni Koroi. It will be just Gregory’s second game for the Highlander.

In the only other change, Ngane Punivai returns from injury to take a spot on the bench. Bryn Gatland has been retained in the squad as Josh Ioane has still not recovered from the groin injury that saw him pull-out from the last match.

“They’re an 80-minute team,” forward coach Mark Hammett said of the ever-improving Blues. “We’re seeing that they are strong finishers to go with all their other strengths.

“They’ve obviously got firepower around the park and their pack is going well. We saw improvement through last year and pre-COVID they were travelling pretty well on the road, which is often a good sign of culture.”

Highlanders: 15. Scott Gregory, 14. Sam Gilbert, 13. Rob Thompson, 12. Sio Tomkinson, 11. Jona Nareki, 10. Mitch Hunt, 9. Aaron Smith, 8. Marino Mikaele Tu’u, 7. Dillon Hunt, 6. Shannon Frizell, 5. Josh Dickson, 4. Pari Pari Parkinson, 3. Siate Tokolahi, 2. Ash Dixon (c), 1. Ayden Johnstone. Replacements: 16. Liam Coltman, 17. Daniel Lienert-Brown, 18. Jeff Thwaites, 19. Manaaki Selby-Rickit, 20. Teariki Ben-Nicholas, 21. Kayne Hammington, 22. Bryn Gatland, 23. Ngane Punivai.