The Blues will have a full deck of cards in hand for their pivotal clash against the Reds in Brisbane in the penultimate round of the Sky Super Rugby Trans-Tasman on Friday night.
They have six All Blacks in their starting line-up led by captain Patrick Tuipulotu who has come off the bench in the last two games following his return from injury.
He is joined by fellow internationals Rieko Ioane, Akira Ioane, rewarded with a start at No 8 after a strong performance last week, Dalton Papalii, Ofa Tuungafasi and the in-form Karl Tu’inukuafe, set for a massive confrontation with the Reds’ Tanielu Tupou.
There are a further three All Blacks to come off the bench comprising Hoskins Sotutu, Nepo Laulala and Alex Hodgman.
“It is excellent for us to have our full squad to select from at the business end of the season, and also to have strong competition for places. There are some players performing well in training who have missed out, but they are a big reason why our selected players have stood up,” said head coach Leon MacDonald.
“We are under no illusion about the battle ahead of us. Take your eye off the game for a moment, and the Reds will take it away from you. Just ask the Chiefs.
“Playing at home at Suncorp Stadium, the Reds are a different beast and we are well aware that we will need to deliver in every part of our game for the full 80 minutes. We need our set piece to fire and our aggressive defence to help deliver front-foot ball for our backs to prosper.
“At the same time discipline is so important. We will again look for our bench to give us a massive boost later in the game.”
MacDonald said the competition table is not a factor this week.
“This is about grinding out a win. One point will be fine by me as long as my heart can stand it.”
The Blues and Reds have a closely-fought history in Super Rugby, each winning four times with one draw in their last nine encounters going back to 2010. As well as the 25-25 draw in 2016, two games have been decided by one point and five have included a losing bonus point.
The game kicks off at 9.45pm NZ Time on Friday before the Blues return for the final round clash against the Western Force at Eden Park on Saturday 12 June. The Blues will again open 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.
For tickets: www.ticketmaster.co.nz
The Blues team to meet the Reds is:
15 Zarn Sullivan, 14 Bryce Heem, 13 Rieko Ioane, 12 TJ Faiane, 11 Mark Telea, 10 Otere Black, 9 Finlay Christie; 8 Akira Ioane, 7 Dalton Papalii, 6 Tom Robinson, 5 Patrick Tuipulotu (C), 4 Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, 3 Ofa Tuungafasi, 2 Kurt Eklund, 1 Karl Tu’inukuafe.
Reserves: 16 Soane Vikena, 17 Alex Hodgman, 18 Nepo Laulala, 19 Jacob Pierce, 20 Hoskins Sotutu, 21 Jonathan Ruru, 22 Harry Plummer, 23 AJ Lam.
Also in the travelling party: Ray Niuia, Stephen Perofeta, Marcel Renata.
Players not considered with injury: Josh Goodhue (foot), Tanielu Telea (calf), (Season-ending): Jone Macilai, Dillon Hunt, James Lay, Emoni Narawa.