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The 25th season of Super Rugby kicks off tonight in Auckland, where the Blues will host the Chiefs. Join The Roar for live scores and a blog from 5:05pm (AEDT).
The Blues haven’t played finals since 2011, and their best finish since then was ninth. Post World Cup exoduses are nothing new, but this year the Blues and Chiefs are the beneficiaries of that. The Highlanders have lost plenty of experience, the Hurricanes have lost Beauden Barrett, and the Crusaders have lost All Blacks captain Kieran Read.
Last season was disappointing for the men in blue. They dropped their first three, and after tallying up four wins on the trot early on, they won just a single game from their next nine. The Chiefs claimed seven wins, but had seven losses, with two draws as well.
In these sides’ last meeting – a 23-8 win for the Blues – the Aucklanders snapped a 15-game winless streak against their local rivals.
In team news, despite it only being the first game of the year, All Blacks Nathan Harris and Luke Jacobson are unavailable for what is otherwise a strong Chiefs forward pack that features Sam Cane, Tyler Ardron and Nepo Laulala.
Both sides will run on without their first choice flyhalf. Aaron Cruden will start on the bench alongside Brad Weber, while Beauden Barrett won’t be available for the Blues until April due to a sabbatical.
England centre Joe Marchant will start at 13 for Leon MacDonald’s team, while Akira Ioane has been left out of the 23.
These sides are pretty evenly matched one to 15, but the Chiefs have the goods on the bench. Cruden could well be the difference when he comes onto the field against the much less experienced Stephen Perofeta.
Chiefs by six.
Make sure to join The Roar for live scores and a blog of this game from 5:05pm (AEDT).
Venue: Eden Park
Time: 5:05pm (AEDT)
Referee: Angus Gardner
Odds: Blues $2.25, Chiefs $1.65
TV: Fox Sports
Last five meetings: Blues 23-8, Chiefs 33-29, Chiefs 21-19, Chiefs 27-21, draw 16-16
Alex Hodgman, Kurt Eklund, Sione Mafileo, Patrick Tuipulotu, Tom Robinson, Dalton Papalii, Tony Lamborn, Hoskins Sotutu, Jonathan Ruru, Stephen Perofeta, Rieko Ioane, TJ Faiane, Joe Marchant, Mark Telea, Matt Duffie. Reserves: Ray Niuia, Karl Tu’inukuafe, Ofa Tuungafasi, Josh Goodhue, Blake Gibson, Sam Nock, Harry Plummer, Emoni Narawa.
Aidan Ross, Samisoni Taukei’aho, Nepo Laulala, Tyler Ardron, Mitch Brown, Lahlan Boshier, Mitch Kaapik, Sam Cane, Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, Kaleb Trask, Solomon Alaimalo, Alex Nankivell, Quinn Tupaea, Sean Wainui, Damian McKenzie. Reserves: Bradley Slater, Atu Moli, Angus Taavao, Naitoa Ah Kuoi, Pita Gus Sowakula, Brad Weber, Aaron Cruden, Anton Lienert-Brown.