All Blacks position battles across the board in Blues-Chiefs

Sam Cane.

All Blacks selectors - both official and those from the comfort of their sofas - will have plenty of position battles to enjoy this weekend in another crucial Super Rugby Pacific all-Kiwi derby, with the Blues and Chiefs clashing in Hamilton.

Both sides have named strong 23s for Saturday's fixture, with the Blues looking to hand the table-topping Chiefs their first loss of the season.

There's also plenty to gain on a personal front, with All Blacks facing off in multiple positions in a rugby world cup year.

Former All Black and Blues coach Leon MacDonald put it best.

"They're the games you want to play in, the big games. If you want to be an All Black, you've got to excel on the biggest stage.

"This is a chance for our players to do that and put their hand up. There's a lot of guys playing for All Black jerseys."

In the forwards, captains Sam Cane and Dalton Papali'i face off at openside flanker while Brad Weber and Finlay Christie will go toe-to-toe at halfback.

In the backlines, Damian McKenzie and Shaun Stevenson - who many have pinned as a shot at earning his All Blacks debut given his impressive form - also square off with Beauden Barrett and Stephen Perofeta at first-five and fullback, respectively.

Damian McKenzie and Beauden Barrett.

Make no mistake though - this match is just as much about regional pride as it is personal.

"This is a game that the boys look forward to," Chiefs coach Clayton McMillan said earlier this week.

"They're our closest neighbours and a team stacked with All Blacks. The rivalry seems to bring the best out in both teams and I anticipate this will be a very physical contest."

MacDonald agreed today.

"[The All Blacks duels] are probably in the back of their minds. It's about getting the result for their team," MacDonald said.

Papali'i himself seemed to reiterate that stance with his own comments on the showdown with Cane today, saying nothing would change in his gameplay in what is "just another game".

"People have asked me [about Cane], but to be honest, I'm just focused on my game, and ready to go out there and play some good footy," the Blues skipper said.

"You look forward to these battles against the best. That's what makes you into a better player - going against the best."

Finlay Christie celebrates Dalton Papalii's individual try against the Crusaders.

MacDonald said the battle at No.7 would be a key battleground in the contest though.

"They're both fantastic players, both very influential for their teams," he said.

"They're the heart of the team really, with the way they play with a lot of bravery. They're both rugged guys... and both teams are going to follow their skippers into battle.

"That's what they'll both be looking to do [this weekend]."

Chiefs vs Blues, Saturday April 1, 7pm, Hamilton

Chiefs: 1. Ollie Norris, 2. Samisoni Taukei’aho, 3. John Ryan, 4. Brodie Retallick, 5. Tupou Vaa’i, 6. Samipeni Finau, 7. Sam Cane (CC), 8. Luke Jacobson, 9. Brad Weber (CC), 10. Damian McKenzie, 11. Etene Nanai-Seturo, 12. Rameka Poihipi, 13. Daniel Rona, 14. Emoni Narawa, 15. Shaun Stevenson

Reserves: 16. Tyrone Thompson, 17. Aidan Ross, 18. George Dyer, 19. Naitoa Ah Kuoi, 20. Pita Gus Sowakula, 21. Cortez Ratima, 22. Bryn Gatland, 23. Liam Coombes-Fabling

Blues: 1. Jordan Lay, 2. Ricky Riccitelli, 3. Nepo Laulala, 4. Cameron Suafoa, 5. Sam Darry, 6. Anton Segner, 7. Dalton Papalii (c), 8. Hoskins Sotutu, 9. Finlay Christie, 10. Beauden Barrett, 11. Caleb Clarke, 12. Harry Plummer, 13. Rieko Ioane, 14. AJ Lam, 15. Stephen Perofeta

Reserves: 16. Kurt Eklund, 17. Ofa Tuungafasi, 18. James Lay, 19. Patrick Tuipulotu, 20. Tom Robinson, 21. Sam Nock, 22. Corey Evans, 23. Jacob Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens/Zarn Sullivan


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