All Black 'made of rock' tipped to dominate Super Rugby

All Black ‘made of rock’ tipped to dominate Super Rugby

Super Rugby Pacific teams will have to do everything they can to stop Mark Telea if they want to have any hope of beating the Blues.

The star winger was a force for the Auckland side and for New Zealand at the Rugby World Cup in 2023.

Last year was something of a breakout campaign for the 27-year-old. 

Watch all the action from the 2024 Super Rugby Pacific season, kicking off on February 23, with every match ad-free, live and and on demand on Stan Sport

Now, teams have put a target on his back.

“Without being disrespectful, he was a little bit under the radar,” said Morgan Turinui on Stan Sport’s Super Rugby Pacific season preview.

“We knew he was good, we knew he was strong through the hips and fast and good through contact. Now, every single Tuesday team meeting, the opposition will be talking about him.

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“Shut down his space, don’t kick in fractured ball. He’ll be more targeted than ever. He’s such a great player, he’s still going to be great.”

That’s a sentiment echoed by former Blues player James Parsons.

“I think the thing with Mark is he’s obviously performed like that at NPC level for a number of years and teams know what to expect, but they still can’t stop him,” said Parsons.

“He is that sort of player. He is almost like Sevu Reece, like the new-age Sevu Reece – made out of rock basically. 

“They have the innate ability to slip through gaps or fend people off and spin. He plays the game with a smile on his face. 

“I would say most games, most players can get a little bit robotic, I would say he doesn’t even know what he’s doing half the time before he does it.”

The Blues fell short of making the 2023 Super Rugby Pacific final after being defeated by the Crusaders in a 52-15 semi-final drubbing in Christchurch.

There have been several changes to the team between seasons, most notably the departure of Leon MacDonald to join the All Blacks as assistant coach to Scott Robertson.

Former Fiji coach Vern Cotter will steer the Auckland-based outfit, marking the first time in almost two decades he’s coached a Super Rugby Pacific team in any capacity.

The Blues have lost 10 players from 2023. Among the departures was Nepo Laulala to Tolouse, Jacob Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens to the Highlanders, and both Beauden Barrett and Tom Robinson to Verblitz in Japan.

However, they have gained Angus Taʻavao from the Chiefs and six other players from the National Provincial Championship.

That depth could be tested, according to Parsons.

“From what I’ve seen in pre-season, they’re pretty impressive,” said the hooker of more than 100 matches.

“Always got the rock star backline but the forwards have really fronted up in these pre-season games. 

“I think probably the only thing that may test them, which it did last year, is that squad depth. 

“We see that time and time again the teams that do win have that depth. There are some young guys that haven’t even played a lot of NPC let alone Super Rugby.

“Hopefully they get their opportunity while everyone is healthy and if they’re needed to front up the latter part, they’re ready for that.”

BLUES vs FIJIAN DRUA in Whangarei, Saturday 2.35pm AEDT

BLUES (15-1): Zarn Sullivan, Mark Telea, Rieko Ioane, Harry Plummer, Caleb Clarke, Stephen Perofeta, Finlay Christie, Hoskins Sotutu, Dalton Papalii, Anton Segner, Josh Beehre, Sam Darry, Angus Ta’avao, Kurt Eklund, Joshua Fusitu’a

Reserves: Ricky Riccitelli, Jordan Lay, Marcel Renata, Laghlan McWhannell, Adrian Choat, Sam Nock, AJ Lam, Cole Forbes

DRUA (15-1): Isikeli Rabitu, Epeli Momo, Iosefo Masi, Apisalome Vota, Selestino Ravutaumada, Isaiah Armstrong-Ravula, Frank Lomani, Meli Derenalagi (c), Ella Canakaivata, Etonia Waqa, Leone Rotuisolia, Isoa Nasilasila, Mesake Doge, Tevita Ikanivere, Livai Natave

Reserves: Mesulame Dolokoto, Emosi Tuqiri, Jone Koroiduadua, Mesake Vocevoce, Vilive Miramira, Peni Matawalu, Kemu Valetini, Tudraki Samusamuvodre

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