The Blues are excited to test themselves against the best when they travel to Christchurch to take on the Crusaders in their Investec Super Rugby clash on Saturday.
Coach Leon MacDonald said while the Blues had played well in their closely-fought loss to the Super Rugby Champions in the opening game, that the Crusaders had gone on to again set the standard in the competition.
While many are billing the match as crucial, the Blues are not letting themselves become outcome-focussed.
“We have had the same approach every game and that is to strive to produce quality performances and to improve every week,” said coach Leon MacDonald.
“If you put on a performance of quality over 80 minutes, then positive results are likely to follow, and we are getting closer to achieving that.
“We know that we will need to be at our very best against the Crusaders. Just like the people of the region, they know how to dig deep in times of adversity, and so we know what to expect.”
An in-form Leni Apisai gets his second start, joining props Alex Hodgman and Ofa Tuungafasi, who both impressed with full 80-minute displays last week. Resilient young No 8 Akira Ioane will make his 31st straight Super start in the loose forward trio with co-captain Blake Gibson and standout rookie Tom Robinson.
The unchanged backline is a blend of impressive young prospects like Caleb Clarke and Harry Plummer with the experience of Ma’a Nonu, the competition’s most experienced player.
The Blues team is:
1 Alex Hodgman, 2 Leni Apisai, 3 Ofa Tuungafasi, 4 Patrick Tuipulotu, 5 Scott Scrafton, 6 Tom Robinson, 7 Blake Gibson ©, 8 Akira Ioane; 9 Jonathan Ruru, 10 Harry Plummer, 11 Rieko Ioane, 12 Ma’a Nonu, 13 TJ Faiane, 14 Caleb Clarke, 15 Melani Nanai.
Reserves: 16 James Parsons, 17 Marcel Renata, 18 Lua Li, 19 Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, 20 Hoskins Sotutu, 21 Augustine Pulu, 22 Otere Black, 23 Levi Aumua.
Players not considered with injury: Sione Mafileo (ankle), Stephen Perofeta (pectoral), Jordan Trainor (thigh), Sonny Bill Williams (knee), Michael Collins (groin), Karl Tu’inukuafe (illness), Sam Nock (hand), Matt Moulds (hand), Jed Brown (hamstring), Dalton Papalii (concussion),Tanielu Tele’a (foot).