After two narrow losses in the last three games, the Blues are turning inwards for their focus for the Sky Super Rugby Aotearoa match against the Crusaders in Christchurch on Sunday.
Blues coach Leon MacDonald believes his side has created sufficient opportunities to prosper but lacked accuracy in implementation and our discipline.
“Our focus is on us. It is about us being more accurate so we can take advantage of the chances we are creating. We show it on the training field, and we need to take that focus and that confidence into the game.
“We have to front-up at set-piece, be physical but disciplined at the collisions, stay in the contest and trust our skills. At times we make the game look sublime and other times we switch off.
“I know and believe that this group can produce a performance that they and our fans can be proud of.”
All Blacks Karl Tu’inukuafe and Nepo Laulala start in the front row with Kurt Eklund returning from suspension at hooker with plenty to prove.
The experienced Gerard Cowley-Tuioti and Christchurch product Sam Darry are paired again in the middle row with skipper Patrick Tuiopultu will nursing an injury, while skilful Blake Gibson joins All Blacks Dalton Papalii and Hoskins Sotutu in an exciting loose forward trio.
The backline is largely unchanged with Harry Plummer starting at first-five and a fully-fit Tanielu Tele’a to add power and thrust to the midfield.
With stand-in skipper Tom Robinson unavailable with injury, the captaincy will be shared by Papalii and Rieko Ioane at 23 years and 24 respectively.
There is plenty of spark to come off the bench with All Blacks Ofa Tuungafasi and Akira Ioane, experienced pivot Finlay Christie, Marcel Renata and Otere Black. They are matched with some eye-catching young prospects in hooker Soane Vikena, a star of last week’s Under-20 Super tournament, mobile lock and former NZ U20 rep Taine Plumtree and powerful winger AJ Lam, dynamic in the Mitre-10 Cup.
The Blues team is:
15 Stephen Perofeta, 14 Mark Telea, 13 Rieko Ioane ©, 12 Tanielu Tele’a, 11 Caleb Clarke, 10 Harry Plummer, 9 Jonathan Ruru; 8 Hoskins Sotutu, 7 Dalton Papalii ©, 6 Blake Gibson, 5 Sam Darry, 4 Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, 3 Nepo Laulala, 2 Kurt Eklund, 1 Karl Tu’inukuafe.
Reserves: 16 Soane Vikena, 17 Marcel Renata, 18 Ofa Tuungafasi, 19 Taine Plumtree, 20 Akira Ioane, 21 Finlay Christie, 22 Otere Black, 23 AJ Lam.
Players not considered with injury: Patrick Tuipulotu (neck), Josh Goodhue (concussion), Jacob Pierce (leg), Tom Robinson (concussion), James Lay (foot). Season-ending: Jone Macalai, Dillon Hunt.
Note: Looking ahead to the historic double-header between the Blues and Chiefs women and men at Eden Park on 1 May, that children are free with a General Admission ticketholder which costs as little as $20.
For tickets for the Blues-Chiefs double-header: www.ticketmaster.co.nz