The Blues are under no illusions about the challenge facing them from the Brumbies in the third-round clash of Sky Super Rugby Trans-Tasman at Eden Park on Saturday.
With the top two teams to qualify for the final, the Blues will be chasing victory to remain in the title hunt, with the side focussed on an improved performance against the powerful Brumbies line-up.
“We know what is at stake here. We have three tough games to finish this competition – and our focus is firmly on Saturday night,” said coach Leon MacDonald. “We may have got five points last weekend and did a lot of things well but we were not satisfied with aspects of our performance.
“We know we must improve and keep improving if we want to fulfil our goals.”
Coach MacDonald said he is looking for significant improvement in set-piece, defence and discipline against the strong Australian side.
The back line is unchanged from last week, with the players developing good combinations on the back of front-foot ball.
All Black loose forwards Hoskins Sotutu and Dalton Papalii return to the starting line-up to form a potent back row with in-form Tom Robinson, who retains the captaincy.
Continued excellent form from Gerard Cowley-Tuioti sees him retained at lock in the starting line-up, having played in every game this season. This means team captain Patrick Tuipulotu will come off the bench after returning from injury last week.
The coaching staff are looking for a decisive impact from their bench, which will boast four All Blacks in Tuipulotu, Akira Ioane, Nepo Laulala and Alex Hodgman.
The only injury loss is to All Black Ofa Tuungafasi who has been given his first game off this season to nurse niggling knee and hand injuries.
The two sides were due to clash in March last year, part of the historic cross-code event with the Warriors-Raiders match but the borders closed that week with the coronavirus.
The Brumbies have won six of their last 10 encounters dating back to 2008, including twice in Auckland, and it has been four years since the Blues last won. In fact, the competition between the two sides is such that they have each scored exactly 214 points in their last 10 clashes.
The Blues are again opening their gates at Eden Park for families with children free if accompanied by a General Admission ticketholder, with GA tickets for as little as $20 with kick off at 7.15pm.
For tickets: www.ticketmaster.co.nz
The Blues team is:
15 Zarn Sullivan, 14 Bryce Heem, 13 Rieko Ioane, 12 TJ Faiane, 11 AJ Lam, 10 Otere Black, 9 Finlay Christie; 8 Hoskins Sotutu, 7 Dalton Papalii, 6 Tom Robinson (C), 5 Josh Goodhue, 4 Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, 3 Marcel Renata, 2 Kurt Eklund, 1 Karl Tu’inukuafe.
Reserves: 16 Soane Vikena, 17 Alex Hodgman, 18 Nepo Laulala, 19 Patrick Tuipulotu, 20 Akira Ioane, 21 Jonathan Ruru, 22 Harry Plummer, 23 Mark Telea.
Players not considered with injury: Sam Nock (hip), Ofa Tuungafasi (knee), Sam Darry (head). Season-ending: Jone Macilai, Dillon Hunt, James Lay, Emoni Narawa.