Super Rugby Pacific: How Blues captain Dalton Papali'i secured an early return from suspension to face Highlanders

Blues captain Dalton Papali'i admitted to some unwelcome flashbacks of his secondary school days at Auckland's St Kentigern College, as he underwent the process to have his three-week suspension for a dangerous tackle reduced.

"I sucked at school to be honest," Papalii laughed. "I didn't like it, but it is what it is."

Earlier this month, the All Blacks loose forward was slapped with a three-week ban for his high shot on Richie Mo'unga that earned him a red card in the Blues' defeat to the Crusaders in Christchurch.

But after acing a World Rugby coaching intervention programme - rugby's equivalent of a defensive driving course - Palii has had a week cut off his sentence, allowing him to return to the field for the final match of the regular season against the Highlanders at Eden Park on Friday.

"I know what I did wrong," Papalii said after Blues training on Wednesday. "Shoulder to head - any day of the week that's got to be yellow or going into a red.

"Reviewing the clip again - yes, I did deserve the red. I think going the process makes you realise what damage you can do.

"I went through it, made some videos and sent it to world rugby and they accepted and said I have learnt my lesson. I've got to drop my body height .

Dalton Papali'i is given his marching orders against the Crusaders.
Dalton Papali'i is given his marching orders against the Crusaders. Photo credit: Getty Images

"It's just one of those things. Heat of the moment. I know Richie Mo'unga, he's a good mate of mine, so I flicked him a message after

"It's all said and done now so I'm happy to be back."

Papali'i's mea culpa involved working in tandem with assistant coach Craig McGrath to recreate the scenario that led to his red-card incident with Mo'unga, then demonstrating how he'd approach the situation differently - identifying the key areas for improvement in tackling technique to avoid similar incidents in the future.

In Papalii's case, that included lowering his height by adjusting his line of sight - and hence his target area - as well as shortening his strides in the lead-in to the tackle to afford him more control of his body.

"I just tried to set an example," he added. "Especially for people in the future because it's a contact sport and it's going to happen in games.

"You've got to know what you've done wrong and how you can get better from it.

"I read the play… I tried to beat [Mo'unga] to getting the pass off but I went too fast. I should've shortened my feet up and given myself time to lower my body height, then I would've made a chop tackle."

Last season, the Blues went through the same process last year with prop Nepo Laulala, which also successfully resulted in a reduction of sentence.

In fact, World Rugby were reportedly so impressed with Papali'i's self-assessment that it plans to use it as a test case for future coaching interventions.

"Dalton owned it,"said McGrath. 

"It was a really useful exercise for us all around physical development and it was a good exercise for Dalton too."

Typically a flanker, Papali'i will shift to the back of the scrum against the southerners on Friday, when a win would guarantee the Blues a quarter-final at Eden Park next weekend. He'll replace Hoskins Sotutu, who is unavailable on All Blacks rest.

"All the loosies basically play the same role in our system," he noted. "Not much changes, just the number on the back really.

"But I have been messaging [Sotutu] asking for some advice for the game."

The Blues will be without Beauden Barrett for a second straight week due to a cut to his foot suffered against the Reds a fortnight ago.

The awkward location of the cut on his Achilles has meant the stitches have been slower to heal than initially anticipated, although it doesn't appear likely to threaten his chances of taking the field for the playoffs.

Barrett trained at full pace for a large chunk of Wednesday's training session.

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