Blues

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Lima Sopoaga

Lima Sopoaga

Amongst the Super Rugby news this week is the announcement that Tanerau Latimer will return to Super Rugby and join up with the Blues.

Lima Sopoaga has also extended his stay at the Highlanders.

Meanwhile the Brumbies will lose Matt Toomua to Leicester Tigers when the European season of 2016 / 2017 starts after Super Rugby of 2016, but therefore he will still be available for the Brumbies in 2016. The Brumbies have also signed hooker Robbie Abel with the Brumbies’ Extended Playing Squad for 2016.

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Super RugbyMassive experience and exciting new talents are the order of the day for all New Zealand’s Super Rugby franchises as they reveal their 2016 squads.

The Highlanders have made minimal changes to their 2015 championship winning squad, with just 9 new additions to their 38-man squad. The side they beat in the 2015 final, the Hurricanes, have taken a similar approach, opting for continuity in retaining 30 players of the greater 39-man squad.

The Chiefs will boast 12 former and current All Blacks in their squad and a further 14 fresh faces. 4 Players have been promoted from the Crusaders’ wider training group with a further 11 players joining the franchise for the 1st time.

The Blues are the only side who have gone against the grain as head coach Tana Umaga has built his 2016 squad around 6 core players, as he looks to resurrect the franchise to his former glory.

We look at all New Zealand’s Super Rugby squads:

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Paul Feeney

Paul Feeney

Auckland ITM Cup head coach Paul Feeney has been named an assistant for the Blues, commencing at the end of this year’s provincial championship.

Feeney completes the new coaching group for the Blues under head coach Tana Umaga, taking specific responsibility for the backs attack and skills. He joins new defence coach Alastair Rogers and current forwards coach Glenn Moore.

Feeney, a former North Harbour representative, has been a professional coach for 14 seasons including 2 as assistant coach for Fiji and including winning the Rugby World Cup Sevens title and also coached for 2 years in Japan.

He has been involved in the ITM Cup with North Harbour, Bay of Plenty and Auckland, taking over as head coach last year.

Feeney won 3 Heartland Championship titles in succession with East Coast from 2006 – 2008, and was assistant coach with the Blues Development side for the last 3 years.

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Alistair Rogers

Alistair Rogers

All Blacks Performance Analyst Alistair Rogers will become the new assistant coach for the Blues.

Rogers, who has been with the All Blacks for the last 7 years, was named to join new head coach Tana Umaga for the next 2 years at the Blues.

He has had a special focus on opposition analysis and defence with the All Blacks and will take the responsibility for defence at the Blues, joining incumbent forwards coach Glenn Moore.

The former professional player is keen to return to a full-time coaching role, after guiding the Ballina Rugby Club in Ireland for 12 months, a stint as defence coach at Honda in Japan and a spell as Hurricanes assistant defence coach last year.

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Carlos Spencer

Carlos Spencer

Could Auckland rugby icon Carlos Spencer be on the verge of making a dramatic return to the Blues as a skills coach under Tana Umaga?

It might seem a longshot but the door could be open according to Blues boss Michael Redman.

Spencer, among the most gifted footballers in New Zealand rugby history, wants to return to New Zealand from South Africa having quit Super Rugby’s Kings franchise which he says owes him substantial wages.

Redman told the Herald the Blues will decide within days whether to appoint a new skills coach, or make the job contestable. If it is the latter, Spencer – who approached the franchise this year – would “absolutely be an option and we would hope and expect he would apply.”

The 39-year-old Spencer is on the lookout for a new job after parting ways with South Africa’s Eastern Province Kings, the apparently financially troubled franchise which returns to the expanded Super Rugby competition next season.

His shock departure from the Kings, revealed yesterday, has cast a further spotlight on issues facing the expanded Super Rugby competition.

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Culum Retallick

Culum Retallick

The Melbourne Rebels have strengthened their squad for the 2016 season with the signing of lock Culum Retallick from the Blues on a 2 year deal.

Retallick has made nearly 50 Super Rugby appearances since debuting for the Chiefs in 2010, also representing the Blues and Highlanders, where he played alongside future Rebels teammates Tamati Ellison and Adam Thomson.

He has also made close to a century of appearances for Bay of Plenty in the ITM Cup since debuting as a 23 year old in 2008, and joins on a foreign developing player contract.

Retallick said he was excited about challenging himself professionally, and joining a team he has watched develop in recent years.

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Sir John Kirwan

Sir John Kirwan

Tana Umaga

Tana Umaga

Sir John Kirwan:

Blues rugby legend Sir John Kirwan has resigned his role as head coach of the organisation.

Kirwan, who has been head coach for 3 years, has announced that he will not seek reappointment for a further term as coach and will step aside, effective immediately.

While Kirwan had put up a proposal to the Blues board for his continued involvement, he said that he had reconsidered over the past few days after talking with his family, colleagues and friends.

“I had a chance to take a breath and reflect about the situation, my future and above all my love of this Blues club and the players,” Kirwan said.

“People who know me well know that I do not walk away from a challenge and that was what was driving me because I know what has been set-up in terms of organisational structure in the last 2 years.

“However I always said that if I didn’t bring about the results that the players, the club and the fans wanted, then I would step aside.”

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Luke Braid

Luke Braid

Tony Woodcock

Tony Woodcock

Keven Mealamu

Keven Mealamu

The Blues have plenty to play for in their final Super Rugby match of the season, against the Highlanders at Eden Park on Friday.

Iconic hooker Keven Mealamu will lead the team in his 175th and final Super Rugby match, while fellow All Black James Parsons will come off the bench for his 50th cap for the Blues.

Friday also marks the end of an era for some of the Blues’ longest serving players.

Mealamu will be stepping on to the field for his last time in the Blues jersey.

Tony Woodcock, who is out from play with a shoulder injury, and Luke Braid out with a concussion, will be sitting in the Blues players’ box for their final game.

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Charles Piutau

Charles Piutau

Charles Piutau has been told by the New Zealand Rugby Union that he cannot play for the Blues next year.

The 23-year-old, has accepted a deal with Pro12 club Ulster midway through the 2016 year, and he wanted to play for the Blues before he left.

If Piutau was allowed to continue playing in Auckland next year he would be available for more than 10 of the Blues Super Rugby games in the 2016 season before his obligations at Ulster began.

However NZRU has denied the opportunity for the 23-year-old to continue playing for the Blues next year, applying its regulation that Super Rugby players must available for All Blacks Test duty.

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Patrick Tuipulotu

Patrick Tuipulotu

Steven Luatua

Steven Luatua

It is an unlucky 13 for the Blues, with 13 players on the injury list, including 4 players who are unlikely to play again in the final 4 weeks of the Super Rugby regular season.

Joining captain Jerome Kaino and Luke Braid on the long term injured list are All Blacks Steven Luatua and Patrick Tuipulotu.

Luatua, the stand-in captain for Kaino, dislocated his shoulder in the win over the Bulls on Friday and with the associated nerve damage, will not return for the Blues final 3 games. Tuipulotu has a long-term hip injury that has worsened and he, too, is unlikely to make it back in the next 4 weeks.

Both players require further tests prior to any decisions about their prognosis and management.

Joining them on the unavailable list this week is Tony Woodcock with a shoulder injury sustained in a collapsed scrum in the match against the Bulls and Charlie Faumuina who is on All Blacks leave.

Others not considered for this week’s match include Pita Ahki (hamstring), Dan Bowden (groin) and Bryn Hall (foot).

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Sir John Kirwan

Sir John Kirwan

New Zealand Rugby has been forced to mediate a dispute between the Auckland Rugby Union and private owners for control of the Blues.

The Super Rugby franchise has been divided for the last fortnight due to a disagreement over whether to retain Blues coach John Kirwan or look for a replacement next season.

New Zealand Rugby released a statement from chief executive Steve Tew on Sunday explaining that he has been forced to try and resolve the issue.

“New Zealand Rugby confirms that it has been involved in discussions with the Blues shareholders,” the statement read.

“As a consequence it is apparent there are some relationship issues amongst shareholders and we have offered to mediate. We hope all parties will accept this offer so we can together resolve this issue. Because we are in the middle of discussions, we are unable to comment further at this time,” he added.

There has been tension for some time between the 2 stakeholders over which of them has control of the franchise, and Tew was apparently asked to step in by the private investors.

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Tabai Matson

Tabai Matson

Crusaders Assistant Coach Tabai Matson has confirmed that he is committed to his current role at the Crusaders, despite reports linking him with the Blues.

Matson said he wanted nothing more than to help the Crusaders towards the Super Rugby Finals Series this season and he was sorry about any unnecessary distraction that the speculation around his future has caused.

“I love this team and I certainly was not out looking for a new coaching role because I am very happy here. It is true that I was approached by the Blues about whether I would consider a move to their coaching team in the future should the opportunity arise.

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Charlie Faumuina

Charlie Faumuina

Charlie Faumuina returns to form an all-All Black front for the Blues, and provide some experience, against a powerful Bulls selection on Friday.

There’s a very youthful look about the Blues team for this Round 14 Super Rugby encounter in Auckland.

The Blues have been hit by injuries, with 8 senior players ruled out – including Jerome Kaino, Luke Braid, Bryn Hall, Charles Piutau, Hayden Triggs, Hamish Northcott, Patrick Tuipulotu and Dan Bowden.

While veteran All Black hooker Keven Mealamu adds some additional experience and firepower on the bench, there are a number of young guns looking to make their Super Rugby debuts – lock Will Lloyd, scrumhalf Jamie Booth and midfield back Matt Vaega.

In-form loose forward Akira Ioane will start again, after this week being named in the New Zealand Under 20 team for the Junior World Cup – along with Blues teammates Blake Gibson, Tevita Li and apprentice Isa Tu’ungafasi.

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Steven Luatua

Steven Luatua

24-Year old All Black Steven Luatua has been named to lead the Blues for the rest of the Super Rugby season after captain Jerome Kaino was ruled out with injury.

Luatua, who could play his 50th game for the Blues before the end of the season, was selected with an eye to the future and with the full endorsement of Kaino and Super Rugby’s most enduring player, 170-Super Rugby game veteran, Keven Mealamu.

The rangy and super-skilful loose forward sought the advice of his illustrious All Black teammates before agreeing to take on the role.

“I was a bit in shock and left for words. I am really humbled and at the same time gutted about the injury to Jerome,” Luatua said.

“Growing up as a kid in the region, this is something you aspire to. We still have Kevie but he believes this is the best direction to head in so I will give it my best shot.”Coach Sir John Kirwan said while the side will certainly miss Kaino both as a player and a leader, it was an excellent opportunity for the future to promote Luatua.

“We recognise Steven as a future leader in the club. The experience will help Steven grow as a leader and player and it will be a great support for Jerome in the coming years,” Kirwan said.

Despite the injury list, the new captain wants the Blues to finish the season strongly, with 4 games at their home base of Eden Park to follow Friday’s match against the Melbourne Rebels.

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George Moala

George Moala

Blues back George Moala has been discharged without conviction for an assault committed in 2012.

Moala was found guilty on 1 charge of assault in January and released on bail. At his sentencing the court discharged the Blues player, effectively closing the matter.

In a statement, the Blues and New Zealand rugby were happy to accept the outcome of the court, however there remains an employment process to be conducted.

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Super RugbyThe Vodacom Bulls are back at the Top of the South African Conference, taking over from the DHL Stormers who came up short in Bloemfontein on an exhilarating Saturday of Vodacom Super Rugby.

The weekend started on a disappointing note for the Cell C Sharks in Dunedin though. After a solid start for the visitors, the Highlanders turned on the heat and eventually beat the Durbanites by 48 / 15 in their opening tour match Down Under.

Saturday saw 2 cracking local derbies, both won by the home teams.

1st Up, the Toyota Cheetahs caused a minor upset when they won their 3rd successive home game against the DHL Stormers in Bloemfontein, by 25 / 17.

The home team outscored the visitors by 3 tries to 2 and thoroughly deserved their 4th win of the season. It was also only the 3rd time in 14 matches that the DHL Stormers could not score any Log Points against the Toyota Cheetahs.

The final match of the weekend was a proper humdinger in Pretoria, where the Vodacom Bulls beat their neighbours, the Emirates Lions, by 35 / 33. A total of 7 tries were scored as both sides went hammer and tongs against each other for the full 80 minutes.

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