Super Rugby 2019: Sonny Bill Williams returns to full training with Blues

  • 29/05/2019

The Blues have named a relatively unchanged line-up to take on the Bulls at Eden Park on Friday.

Coach Leon MacDonald has retained virtually the same starting line-up that battled to a 19-11 loss to the Crusaders in Christchurch last weekend.

All Blacks loose forward Dalton Papali'i was originally pencilled in for the run-on side at number eight but failed his concussion assessment following Wednesday's training, forcing a reshuffle in the forwards.

After starting 32 straight games, Akira Ioane was to be given a spell off the bench off the bench prior to the Blues' Queensland road trip next week. Instead he'll take his place at the back of the scrum, alongside captain Blake Gibson and Tom Robinson.

"Akira has worked hard on improving his game this year and he has been such a work-horse for us," said MacDonald. "Especially early on when we had injuries with the loose forwards.

"We have to remember he is still a very young man and we had initially looked to lighten his load and bring him off the bench this week."

"But while Dalton is very close to full fitness, we did not want to take any risks and will keep him back until next week. We know Akira will put in another big effort for us."

Hoskins Sotutu – son of former Auckland wing Waisake Sotutu – will come on to the interchange.

The backline remains unchanged, although star midfielder Sonny Bill Williams was back to full training ahead of an expected return to the field against the Reds.

The All Blacks midfielder hasn't played since injuring his knee in the Blues' round-seven clash with the Stormers two months ago, and MacDonald is hopeful he'll be ready to go next week.

"We're just trying to build his load back up. It's increased this week to what wouyld be a typical game week, and if he can tolerate that then he'll be good to go next week."

The Blues still have a mathematical chance of advancing to the playoffs, but MacDonald insists their simply focusing on putting together performances to be proud of.

"We are taking them one at a time and want to finish each really strongly. Then we add up the points and see if we continue into the post-season playoffs."

Blues: 1-Alex Hodgman, 2-James Parsons, 3-Ofa Tuungafasi, 4-Patrick Tuipulotu, 5-Scott Scrafton, 6-Tom Robinson, 7-Blake Gibson (c), 8-Akira Ioane, 9-Jonathan Ruru, 10-Harry Plummer, 11-Rieko Ioane, 12-Ma'a Nonu, 13-TJ Faiane, 14-Caleb Clarke, 15-Melani Nanai.

Reserves: 16-Leni Apisai, 17-Lua Li, 18-Marcel Renata, 19-Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, 20-Hoskins Sotutu, 21-Augustine Pulu, 22-Otere Black, 23-Tanielu Tele'a.


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