Western Force vs. Blues in Super Rugby Pacific. Perth’s HBF Park is the location. When: Friday, April 30th, midnight (NZT). Sky Sport 1 is broadcasting live coverage, with Stuff providing updates. Angus Gardner is the official referee. Could Akira Ioane, a returning All Black, be the missing piece in the Blues’ Super Rugby Pacific-leading puzzle? Coach Leon MacDonald is determined to find out with the Western Force’s round 11 visits to Perth on Friday.
Ioane, a 13-test All Black loose forward, was a surprise inclusion in MacDonald’s starting XV for the encounter against the Force at HBF Park, with the Force looking to extend their winning streak to eight games in the competition. The 26-year-old hasn’t played since sustaining a foot injury in the weeks leading up to the season opener against the Hurricanes, and his return to full fitness has been a long, arduous process.
But MacDonald has made changes to the team that lost to the Fijian Drua last Saturday in Melbourne. Caleb Clarke, Zarn Sullivan, Finlay Christie, Dalton Papalii, Ofa Tuungafasi, Kurt Eklund, and Alex Hodgman (for his 50th cap) have all been brought back.
Ioane, on the other hand, is the most important. You bring a player back into rugby after they’ve been out for a long time through the bench. As he comes back into play, give him a few minutes off the bench to ease him back in.
Not Akira Ioane, but. Mackenzie says he has faith that his ball-playing loosie will give him an hour from the start of the game before he “falls off a cliff.” He wants to know how he has helped the team, even though they have an impressive 8-1 record.
It was the coach’s job to keep him back, he said. “We could have pushed him out last week, but we wanted to give him more time, get more miles in his legs, and build confidence.” This week, we felt like he was ready to go. You can see the updates in OKBET.
It has been a good thing for MacDonald to have Tom Robinson at No. 6. He plays as hard as anyone else in the group. In any case, it’s clear that he wants to see how well Ioane can deliver the X-factor that’s a big part of his personality, though.
“When you see him on the field, he’s a big deal.” Having him back has given the team more confidence, says the Blues coach. “He’s a great athlete and moves very well,” he says.
There is no doubt about it: “He has done well at this level and above.”
It was a big year for him. At his best, he’s as good as you can get when it comes to ball-carrying and defense. His own way of being a leader isn’t like Dalton, who is very emotional. Instead, he leads by how he talks to his guys on the side and how he makes them laugh.
“We were a little off.” When we played last week, we didn’t have the same level of intensity we had the previous two weeks. We didn’t fight as hard in the tackle area or break, didn’t get off the line as much, and made too many mistakes when trying to score. That’s on us.
“This week’s lesson is that we must maintain a high level of intensity at all times.” We were two clicks behind where we needed to be across the board, and our management recognized this as a priority. Dalton’s return has been beneficial because he is a big influencer of off-field standards and on-field energy. We need to get things properly because this is a crucial game.”
The Blues have a lot riding on this game. During his three-week ban, Clarke has been like a cat on a hot tin roof, and he’s keen to go back to where he left off. Hodgman wants to mark his 50th birthday in style, Ofa Tuungafasi has improved noticeably, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck will be looking for space, and youngster Anton Segner will be aware of the opportunity he has at No 8.
Though, he has the same spring in his stride as Ioane. The big loosie is back, and he’d like to make a grand entrance in the untamed west. Check out the OKBET sportsbook for you to wager on your favorite teams and player in Rugby.