Match Preview: Blues v Bulls

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Wednesday, May 29, 2019    Getty Images

Match Detail: Blues v Bulls, Eden Park, Auckland, 7.35pm, Friday 31 May 2019

Played: 21
Won: Blues 13, Bulls 7, 1 Draw
Last time: Blues won 38-14 at North Harbour Stadium, 25 March 2017
Referee: Mike Fraser

The Blues have recorded eight losses and five wins so far in 2019. They opened their campaign with a narrow 24-22h loss to the Crusaders and then went on to lose to the Sharks and Jaguares on the road. They came home and won four on the trot over the Sunwolves, Highlanders, Stormers and Waratahs, before going on to lose four in a row. They narrowly lost to the Chiefs in an epic encounter in Hamilton 33-29, then lost to the Highlanders, Brumbies and Hurricanes. They beat the Chiefs 23-8h and last week lost to the Crusaders 19-11a. The Bulls have virtually gone win-loss all season so far. They thrashed the Stormers 40-3h to open their 2019 campaign. Then they lost to the Jaguares 27-12a. The Bulls recorded two wins over the Lions and Sharks, before losing to the Chiefs 56-20h. They then beat the Sharks, lost to the Jaguares again and beat the Reds. The Bulls beat the Stormers 24-23 on the road, then beat the Waratahs, lost to the Crusaders and then defeated the Rebels 32-17a. Last week they lost to the Brumbies 22-10a. 
Blues fullback Melani Nanai is dominating the chart for the most metres in Super Rugby 2019. He’s made 966 metres, with his nearest rival, Gerhard van den Heever of the Sunwolves on 871. Reiko Ioane only needs one more try to jump to the top of the try scoring ladder alongside Jack Maddocks of the Rebels and Brumbies hooker Folau Fainga’a. Ioane has currently scored nine tries.

On Friday night, 23-year old Akira Ioane will make his 32nd straight start for the Blues, virtually all with 80-minute performances. The No 8 was set to get a rest this weekend, however, Dalton Papalii has not 100 percent recovered from a head knock. Blues coach Leon MacDonald said they have been monitoring his workload and had intended to bring him off the bench this week, but he knows Ioane will put in another big shift. 

The Bulls will have to make do without two of their star Springboks players on Friday night. They are without first five-eighth Handre Pollard and No 8 Duane Vermeulen, who have a calf strain and neck injury respectively. Both players are big losses for the Bulls, with Pollard topping the most points chart with 161 points. Vermeulen has been a workhorse this season, having won 20 turnovers so far in 2019, more than any other player in the competition. Pollard has been replaced by Manie Libbok and Paul Schoeman will wear the Bulls No 8 jersey. 

The Blues have won 11 of their 12 home games against the Bulls in Super Rugby history. Over half of those wins have seen a final margin of 13+. 

FAST FACT (Opta Sports)
Eden Park is proving to be more of a fortress for the Blues this season. They have won five of their last six Super Rugby games on home turf, including a 23-8 win over the Chiefs in their last home match. 

Blues: 1 Alex Hodgman, 2 James Parsons, 3 Ofa Tuungafasi, 4 Patrick Tuipulotu, 5 Scott Scrafton, 6 Tom Robinson, 7 Blake Gibson ©, 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.

Bulls: 1 Lizo Gqoboka, 2 Schalk Brits, 3 Trevor Nyakane, 4 Jason Jenkins, 5 RG Snyman, 6 Marco van Staden, 7 Hanro Liebenberg, 8 Paul Schoeman, 9 Ivan van Zyl, 10 Manie Libbok, 11 Rosko Spekman, 12 Burger Odendaal (C), 13 Johnny Kotze, 14 Cornal Hendricks, 15 Warrick Gelant. Reserves: 16 Jaco Visagie, 17 Simphiwe Matanzima, 18 Wiehahn Herbst, 19 Jannes Kirsten, 20 Ruan Steenkamp, 21 Andre Warner, 22 JT Jackson, 23 Divan Rossouw