Five players to watch: The Blues
Wednesday, October 31, 2018 Campbell Burnes Getty Images
QUICK TAP: BLUES REVEAL 38-MAN SQUAD FOR 2019 SUPER RUGBY SEASON
All Black number 1171 has made a truly remarkable rise.
The 25-year-old loosehead prop wins his first full Super Rugby contract – a three-year deal with the Blues – after racking up 10 Tests for the All Blacks, and will look to fill the boots of the departed Pauliasi Manu.
Having played 17 games for North Harbour until the end of 2017, Tu’inukuafe was called into the Chiefs early this season as they dealt with an injury crisis. He has not looked back, scrummaging powerfully and adding his impact around the field, firstly at Super level and then for the All Blacks after his June debut against France.
Furthermore, Tu’inukuafe is one of three finalists for World Rugby’s Breakthrough Player of the Year, to be decided in Monaco on November 25.
The Auckland loose forward was the bolter for the All Blacks on the Northern Tour.
But one cannot doubt his displays in 2018. The 21-year-old made his debut for the Blues earlier in the season, having made just four appearances for Auckland, off the bench, in 2017.
He was a key man for Auckland in the Mitre 10 Cup, making his presence felt at the breakdown and racking up a competition-high 169 tackles. Papalii’s versatility means he can operate in all three loose forward positions and win lineout ball, as well as bringing the softer touches to his allround game.
In 2015 he played for NZ Schools, while in 2017 he represented New Zealand Under 20s, scoring a try against England in the World Cup final.
??? TEAM NAMING | @BluesRugbyTeam muscle up for 2019 #SuperRugby season.Otere Black
READ ?? https://t.co/OKs3RGJonp
SEASON TICKETS ?? https://t.co/PpQu98DOfg pic.twitter.com/fYRszKlKGI— Super Rugby (@SuperRugbyNZ) October 31, 2018
The Blues never got to see the flowering of its No 10 signing Otere Black in 2018.
A bad knee injury sustained late in the 2017 Mitre Cup for his Manawatu Turbos ruled him out of action for the entire Super Rugby season. But Black was professional with his attitude and diligent with his rehabilitation, making it back onto the field for six games with the Turbos and he flew out with the Maori All Blacks for their tour of the Americas.
His accurate goalkicking and sound game sense will be vital to the Blues’ fortunes in 2019, where he will vie with Stephen Perofeta and Harry Plummer for the role of pivot.
Upgraded from a training contract in 2018, Harry Plummer is fresh off a productive Mitre 10 Cup with Auckland in which he racked up the second most minutes for that team (831) and compiled 113 points.
His accurate goalkicking is a clear strength of his game, and his game management is growing in maturity. At just 20, Plummer has already achieved much since he made his Auckland debut at the tail end of 2017. The first five captained his Grammar TEC premier club side at just 18 and went on to play for the New Zealand Under 20 side this season.
Plummer, son of Auckland and former Blues physio Mark Plummer, will push hard for a starting Blues berth in 2019.
Lock Patrick Tuipulotu will look to hit the ground running in 2019 after an injury-plagued last couple of seasons for the Blues.
The 25-year-old sailed past 50 caps in 2018 before a shoulder injury ruled him for several months. He made a rousing return for Auckland, scoring a hat-trick in a 56-minute cameo against Tasman in September. Back in the All Blacks, he made a telling impact, showing some of the power game and ball-winning ability that underpin his rugby during the latter stages of the Rugby Championship and the Northern Tour.
Tuipulotu will be anxious to reassert himself at Super Rugby level and show he is the go-to man in the Blues’ tight five.
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