Coach Leon MacDonald said he had room for only one specialist No8 among the loose forward make-up, and that the impressive form of Hoskins Sotutu meant Akira, Rieko’s older brother, missed out.
“This will allow Akira to continue his preparations at home to be fast and ready to add fresh input to the team on our return to take on the Hurricanes in three weeks,” MacDonald said.
It is a stunning reversal for the big No8, who played virtually every minute of every match for the Blues over the past two seasons and has played only 12 this year – off the reserves bench in the win over the Waratahs in Newcastle.
He wasn’t included in the match-day squad for the losses against the Chiefs and Crusaders at Eden Park.
Sotutu, Blake Gibson, Tom Robinson, Tony Lamborn and Dalton Papalii make compelling loose forward options, but Akira might be wondering what he needs to do to be given an opportunity.
Rieko’s recovery from a broken hand is ahead of schedule and particularly welcome; the Blues didn’t miss their All Black strike weapon in their victory over the Waratahs but his attacking edge would have been hugely welcome during the weekend’s defeat to the Crusaders.
Black has yet to play for the Blues after hurting a rib in pre-season.
The only player from the squad that played against the Crusaders to miss the tour is lock Josh Goodhue, who left the field with an ankle injury early in the match.
MacDonald said the returns of Ioane and Black were welcome. After the Bulls the Blues play the Stormers in Cape Town before returning home.
“We are also hoping that Finlay Christie, Gerard Cowley-Tuioti and Jared Page will be off the injury list and available for selection for the Hurricanes game, along with the ankle injury for Josh Goodhue,” MacDonald said.
Players not considered because of injury include: Finlay Christie (neck), Gerard Cowley-Tuioti (shoulder), Jared Page (hamstring), Tanielu Tele’a (shoulder), James Tucker (knee), Alex Hodgman (calf), Ray Niuia (knee), Josh Goodhue (ankle).