Round Eleven of Super Rugby Pacific is headlined by the local derby between Moana Pasifika and the Blues at Eden Park this Saturday night. The two sides will meet for the first time in 2023, after the Blues went two for two against Moana Pasifika in 2022. With close school and representative ties between many players, including several Moana Pasifika players coming through the Blues system, Saturday night’s contest will be a highly anticipated friends-turn-foes match for the men taking the field.
Last week’s Culture Round saw Moana Pasifika in a nail-biting close with the Naarm Rebels. Moana Pasifika made a valiant effort and scored three tries in the final 20-minute period. The energetic defence and willingness to keep fighting in this game displayed the heart and passion Moana Pasifika plays with and the potential this team has once they can fire on all cylinders. The deficit was too much for the home team to overcome, and the visitors won 33-43.
Now eleven rounds into the 2023 Super Rugby Pacific campaign, the Moana Pasifika men have shown continual improvement every week and on Saturday meet the Blues, who are coming off an impressive win in Lautoka, becoming the first team to topple over the giant slaying Fijian Drua on home soil this year. Currently sitting at 4th on the ladder, the Blues are aware of the threat a hungry Moana Pasifika outfit possess and will be fielding a strong 23 to defend their home turf.
Head Coach Aaron Mauger continues to back a similar 23-man squad that has taken the field over the last few weeks. With strong chemistry and positional partnerships forming within the team, Mauger is confident that the new additions will only improve upon what his team has already built.
A strong performance with ball in hand and at set piece by Chris Apoua sees the tighthead elevated to the starting line-up, where he’ll join the ever-consistent Samiuela Moli and the imposing Abraham Pole in the front row.
The tight five put in a massive work-rate last week, and in huge part to the familiar second row partnership of Michael Curry and Mike McKee, who contributed to a 100% line out success rate and a 97% ruck success rate. The pair are again named in the four and five jerseys this week.
Miracle Faiilagi continues to showcase his ability at blindside and has comfortably settled into his role in the loose trio. Returning alongside him in the lineup is open side Alamanda Motuga, who was in career-best form before his hamstring injury and will look to pick up right where he left off.
Packing in at the back of the scrum is captain Solomone Funaki, who has unequivocally led his team on both sides of the ball all season. With a team high 15 runs last week as well as sitting 4th in the competition for total tackles, Funaki’s relentless work ethic has always energised his team, and he’ll again look to impose his physicality early on in a battle against a star-studded Blues loose forward trio which will be a key matchup to watch on Saturday.
Halfback Ereatara Enari and 1st 5 Christian Lealiifano will lead their troops around Eden Park this weekend. These two have played an integral role in unleashing the star power in the Moana Pasifika backline and have continued to improve and grow as the navigators of their team.
D’Angelo Leuila enters the starting lineup for the injured Danny Toala and will form a new-look partnership with the destructive Levi Aumua. The versatile skillset and physicality of Leuila adds another ball carrying threat to the backline, and has barely stepped a foot wrong when taking the field this season. Levi Aumua rose to the top position in Super Rugby Pacific’s defenders-beaten leader board with 45 in nine games and is in for another statement game as he matches up against his former team, in which he made four appearances in 2019.
Another familiar trio of Neria Foma’i, Timoci Tavatavanawai and William Havili will form the Moana Pasifika back three. While right winger Tavatavanawai has been dominating highlight reels with jaw-dropping bump-offs and line breaks, Foma’i and Havili have quietly been solid additions to the strike power of Moana Pasifika. Second to Tavatavanawai in metres gained last week, Foma’i has proven to be a handful for defenders with a high work rate off his wing and an ability to tuck the ball and be a punishing ball carrier. At the back, Havili has been a safe and reliable asset to the team all season and has become renowned for his outstanding left boot.
Luteru Tolai joins the bench this week and returns to Eden Park to face off against the team he made his Super Rugby debut for in 2020. Tau Koloamatangi will feature for the first time since Round Four and joins Ezekiel Lindenmuth in front row cover. These three will be looking to impact the game and emulate the form of the bench from last week, particularly around set piece.
Moana Pasifika’s ‘Man of the Match’ against the Rebels, Jonah Mau’u, will bring a similar tenacity off the bench this week next to Alex McRobbie, who rounds out the forward cover.
After a solid return to Super Rugby, Jonathan Taumateine returns in the 21 jersey, combining well with Lincoln McClutchie last week, who picked up two try assists, and will again wear the 22 jersey on Saturday. The live wire Fine Inisi has proved to be the perfect impact off the bench and will complete his side to take on the Blues.
Moana Pasifika v Blues
Saturday 6th May, kick off 7:05pm NZT
1. Abraham Pole
2. Samiuela Moli
3. Chris Apoua
4. Michael Curry
5. Mike McKee
6. Miracle Faiilagi
7. Alamanda Motuga
8. Solomone Funaki (c)
9. Ereatara Enari
10. Christian Lealiifano
11. Neria Fomai
12. D’Angelo Leuila
13. Levi Aumua
14. Timoci Tavatavanawai
15. William Havili
16. Luteru Tolai
17. Ezekiel Lindenmuth
18. Tau Koloamatangi
19. Alex McRobbie
20. Jonah Mau’u
21. Jonathan Taumateine
22. Lincoln McClutchie
23. Fine Inisi
Unavailable due to injury: Sekope Kepu (achilles), Jack Lam (foot), Joe ‘Apikotoa (concussion), Pita Anae Ah Sue (concussion), Ray Niuia (concussion), Suetena Asomua (foot), Sam Slade (hamstring), Lolagi Visinia (hand), Manu Paea (adductor).See all news