Rieko Ioane missing big brother Akira in Blues milestone

All Blacks wing Rieko Ioane will bring up his 50th game for the Blues, but he must celebrate without brother Akira in the line-up against the Chiefs on Friday.

The elder brother has long been regarded as one of the most talented loose forwards in NZ rugby, but has so far fallen short of his potential, playing just once for the national side, despite ample opportunities to impress.

Akira Ioane, 24, has already logged a half ton for the Blues - including every game for the past two seasons - but coach Leon MacDonald insists he's one of several unlucky players to miss the cut for the opening game of the new Super Rugby season, making way for Hoskins Sotutu's first start at No.8.

"Akira is unlucky," says MacDonald. "He's one of the tough calls - he's trained really well, he's in good condition, he's fit and hungry.

"But I talked about the competition in the squad and Hoskins has been one of the standouts as well. It's a bit of a luxury to have two quality players to choose from.

"We said to the squad that pre-season form was critical and we're rewarding Hoskins for being outstanding."

MacDonald insists this shouldn't be regarded as a changing of the guard and Ioane is relishing competition at the back of the scrum.

"It's not because Aki is playing poorly, because he's not - he's playing really well - but the other guys has stepped up." 

Despite suggestions Rieko Ioane, 22, would be used in the midfield this season, he has been named in his accustomed position on the wing for this week's Eden Park outing and will be expected to step up his leadership role, with the departure of former internationals Sonny Bill Williams and Ma'a Nonu.  

"'Reeks' has always had his voice and always been a strong leader, so he's there and doing that definitely.

"Every team goes through a loss of leadership and this year, we've got a really good group of guys coming through and doing a good job there."

All Black Patrick Tuipulotu will captain the side from lock, while wing Mark Telea, hooker Kurt Eklund, US loose forward Tony Lamborn, England centre Joe Marchant, and replacements Ray Niuia and Emoni Narawa will debut.

All Blacks props Ofa Tuungafasi and Karl Tu'inukuafe will come off the bench.

Blues: 1-Alex Hodgman, 2-Kurt Eklund, 3-Sione Mafileo, 4-Patrick Tuipulotu, 5-Tom Robinson, 6-Dalton Papalii, 7-Tony Lamborn, 8-Hoskins Sotutu; 9-Jonathan Ruru, 10-Stephen Perofeta, 11-Rieko Ioane, 12-TJ Faiane, 13-Joe Marchant, 14-Mark Telea, 15-Matt Duffie

Bench: 16-Ray Niuia, 17-Karl Tu’inukuafe, 18-Ofa Tuungafasi, 19-Josh Goodhue, 20-Blake Gibson; 21-Sam Nock, 22-Harry Plummer, 23-Emoni Narawa


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