Super Rugby 2019: Blues looking for power finish with All Black quality bench

Consigning two All Black props to your bench doesn't sound smart on paper, but for the Blues, it could prove to be a masterstroke.

Coach Leon MacDonald has again named Ofa Tuungafasi and Karl Tu'inukuafe among his reserves for Saturday's Super Rugby clash with the Stormers.

The two scrum kingpins were critical in the Blues' first win in 20 against New Zealand opposition last weekend.

The Blues edged the Highlanders 33-26, thanks in part to a strong second-half scrum performance, which was bolstered by the introduction of Tuungafasi and Tu'inukuafe after the break.

With the powerful Stormers pack awaiting at Eden Park, MacDonald wants to ensure his side finishes with as much all-star quality as possible, opting to start Alex Hodgman and Sione Mafileo.

"There are two things to that selection," MacDonald said. "How do we start the best, and how do we close out and win a game?

"Having quality coming off the bench like that was a pretty huge factor in our win - it's hard to ignore that.

"We rate Sione and Alex very highly as well, so given they are probably eight or so weeks ahead of the other guys in terms of conditioning, they are in a better position to play bigger minutes than the guys coming back from the All Blacks."

MacDonald isn't completely sold on the tactic playing out for the rest of the season, but for now, he's adopting the 'if it's not broke, don't fix it' gameplan.

"Right here, right now, that is how we see it, but that could all change, based on performance. We will see how they go, but it worked for us well last week.

"This has kind of evolved [as a plan] as we have gone. We watch training, we watch the games and we see how these guys are tracking.

"We feel that the guys who have done the full pre-season work are a better fit to start the game for us at this point. If they can see out the game till halftime or just after, then it is ideal for us.

"At the moment, we feel this is the best for the team."

Rieko Ioane's form has proved another bonus for the team in 2019. The flying winger was scheduled for his mandated All Blacks rest this week, but MacDonald has put that on hold, given Ioane's try-scoring feats this season.

He has scored six tries in five games, including a double against the Highlanders, where he left fellow All Black Waisake Naholo grovelling in his wake on more than one occasion.

With a bye in two weeks, MacDonald will likely spell his star player for the Waratahs' visit next weekend.

"He's going to have to rest the following week," MacDonald said. "We felt this was a crucial game to back up what we did at the weekend.

"We felt consistency was critical and he was obviously a big part of that.

"We have two wingers coming back in Caleb [Clarke] and Matt Duffie, so we will marry that all together and see when the right time is to spell him [Ioane].

"Every week, we have to make decisions around selection, so you can treat the All Blacks rest week as something like a minor calf or [hamstring] injury.

"That's how we approach it and plan for it."

With the Highlanders on a bye week, and the table-topping Crusaders and Hurricanes preparing for battle, the Blues have a real opportunity to get back into the playoff mix.

A win against the Stormers would see them jump the Highlanders for third spot, closing in on second in the conference.

But MacDonald is far from content, demanding another step up in intensity this weekend.

"The belief was always there, but to do it kind of confirmed that we are heading in the right direction. The most pleasing thing is that we are not happy with where we are at and we want to get better.

"Those games are won and lost on small plays, so you can't get ahead of yourselves. There were a lot of times during that game where we didn't get it right, so we just need to keep trying to get better every week."

"This week has been a really complete training week and we are really looking forward to getting back out there on Saturday."


Join us at 7:30pm Saturday for live updates of the Blues vs Stormers Super Rugby clash.