Beauden Barrett and fellow backline stars on ice against Waratahs

Patrick McKendry
Source: 1News

The Blues, with their position as Super Rugby Pacific’s top qualifiers guaranteed, have elected to rest Beauden Barrett and other backline high-fliers Finlay Christie, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, Mark Telea and Stephen Perofeta for their final-round match against the Waratahs in Sydney on Saturday.

Beauden Barrett will have a week off after leading the Blues to their last-ditch win over the Brumbies.

Already without Rieko Ioane due to a hamstring strain suffered against the Reds, they are now also without Caleb Clarke to a similar injury picked up last weekend against the Brumbies, but are persevering with a plan to freshen up their firepower for their upcoming quarter-final at Eden Park.

And they have taken a punt on rookie first-five Jock McKenzie, a talented 20-year-old playing in his first start for the Blues in only his second match at Super Rugby level.

McKenzie, born and bred on Auckland’s North Shore, has yet to start a match for Auckland in the NPC. He is also an excellent cricketer and was this year named in a New Zealand XI to play the touring Netherlands.

“We are in no way disrespecting our opposition,” head coach Leon MacDonald said of his selection shake-up. “We have a very healthy respect for the Waratahs and believe we have named a team able to perform to our standards against them.

“One of our major strengths this season has been the quality of our young players who have been fronting every week in training. We have had limited chances to see them under pressure in a game situation and prepare for any potential injuries.”

The midfield of Corey Evans and Tamati Tua also appears inexperienced for the Blues, who will face a Waratahs side fired up to repeat their shock win against an under-strength Crusaders earlier in the season.

In that match in Sydney at the end of April, the Crusaders elected to rest All Blacks first-five Richie Mo’unga, a decision that no doubt contributed to the defeat, although it didn’t account for the regular mistakes from forwards and backs alike.

It also left Waratahs’ rising first-five Tane Edmed, a 21-year-old who shone in the Crusaders victory and also his team’s recent win over the Highlanders in Dunedin, disappointed. Now Edmed won’t face the challenge of playing Barrett either.

Rookie first-five Jock McKenzie shakes hands with Stephen Perofeta after his Super Rugby debut match against Moana Pasifika.

“I was disappointed when Richie wasn’t playing,” Edmed told reporters in Sydney on Wednesday. “It was good for our team and I understand that but it would have been really cool to run against one of the best five-eighths in the world.

“I’ve always looked up to Beauden Barrett when I’ve been coming through and it would be so awesome if I could come up against him, he’s one of the best in the world so it would be a really cool experience, especially at Leichhardt. Hopefully I see him on that team sheet.”

There is little doubt that the Blues are putting their record-equalling winning streak at risk by resting so many of their stars – MacDonald has made eight changes to the team which fought back to beat the Brumbies in Canberra last weekend, a win helped by Barrett's late dropped goal.

The Waratahs also have more to play for in terms of final table position. Currently sixth, they will want to stay there in order to qualify for a probable quarter-final against the Brumbies rather than facing a trip to Christchurch to play the Crusaders.

Like the Blues, the Crusaders are also risking recent momentum through their non-selection of Mo’unga and hooker Codie Taylor for their home match against the Reds on Friday night.

Head coach Scott Robertson said they could have picked Mo’unga for the match, who is recovering from a finger problem, but have elected not to – likewise All Black Taylor, who is coming back from rib injury but could have played.

The Crusaders will want to hold on to No.2 spot in order to qualify for a slightly easier playoffs mix, but they could slip up if they lose to the Reds and the Brumbies put a big score on Moana Pasifika at Mount Smart Stadium on Saturday night.

Fergus Burke will again wear the No.10 jersey for the Crusaders after playing well against the Drua last weekend, but Robertson is talking a calculated risk and putting his team's momentum on the line, as is MacDonald.

Jordie Barrett is out of the Hurricanes team to play the Force in Perth late on Saturday night due to illness. Coach Jason Holland is also ill and has not made the trip.

The Blues team to play the Waratahs at Leichardt Oval in Sydney, kick-off 9.45pm is:

1. Jordan Lay

2. Ricky Riccitelli

3. Nepo Laulala

4. Luke Romano ©

5. Josh Goodhue

6. Anton Segner

7. Adrian Choat

8. Taine Plumtree

9. Sam Nock

10. Jock McKenzie

11. AJ Lam

12. Corey Evans

13. Tamati Tua

14. Jacob Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens

15. Zarn Sullivan

Reserves:

16. Soane Vikena

17. Karl Tu’inukuafe

18. Marcel Renata

19. Sam Darry

20. Cameron Suafoa

21. Akira Ioane

22. Taufa Funaki

23. Nigel Ah-Wong