The final outing in the Super Rugby Aotearoa competition is more of a start than a finish for the Blues when they host the Chiefs at Eden Park on Saturday evening.
While a bonus point victory would see them draw level with the Chiefs in second place in the competition, the Waikato-based side will progress on a countback of wins.
Blues coach Leon MacDonald is already refocussing on the Super Trans Tasman competition which begins in two weeks, with each Super side taking on their five rivals from across the Tasman.
“The last two weeks have been tough for sure. We’ve worked so hard and to a high level in training but not been able to replicate in recent games,” said MacDonald.
“Our focus remains on doing the simple things well and being more accurate so we can take advantage of the chances we continue to create.
“We are definitely focussing on the basics but we also want the players to express themselves and take chances.
“The Chiefs have a formidable pack so we have to front-up there to provide quality ball for our backs to shine. We want them to have the confidence to play their natural game but at the same time do it with accuracy just like they do on the training field.
“We do want to finish this competition off on a good note. Equally we want to use it as a stepping stone to move into the Trans Tasman competition which will be a stern test. It is an opportunity for us to reassert ourselves and produce the quality of rugby that we know we can deliver.”
The forward pack is relatively unchanged although Tom Robinson returns to blindside and captaincy with outstanding Dalton Papalii out with a knee injury and replaced by lively Auckland player Adrian Choat for his fourth appearance.
There are changes in the backline with Finlay Christie returning to start at halfback with Otere Black at pivot while Tanielu Tele’a gets another chance after being taken off following his heavy collision off the ball last weekend.
The changes come further out where the experienced Bryce Heem gets his second start on the right wing alongside exciting 20-year-old Zarn Sullivan who makes his debut at fullback, following an impressive Auckland debut in the Mitre-10 Cup.
There’s a strong look to the bench including All Blacks Ofa Tuungafasi and Akira Ioane, who played strongly off the bench last week.
MacDonald said it was an important night for the club in the historic double header with the nib Blues taking on the Waitomo Chiefs in the first ever women’s game between Super clubs.
The Blues team is:
15 Zarn Sullivan, 14 Bryce Heem, 13 Rieko Ioane ©, 12 Tanielu Tele’a, 11 Caleb Clarke, 10 Otere Black, 9 Finlay Christie; 8 Hoskins Sotutu, 7 Adrian Choat, 6 Tom Robinson ©, 5 Sam Darry, 4 Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, 3 Nepo Laulala, 2 Kurt Eklund, 1 Karl Tu’inukuafe.
Reserves: 16 Soane Vikena, 17 Ofa Tuungafasi, 18 Marcel Renata, 19 Josh Goodhue, 20 Akira Ioane, 21 Sam Nock, 22 Harry Plummer, 23 AJ Lam.
Players not considered with injury: Patrick Tuipulotu (neck), Jacob Pierce (leg), Tom Robinson (concussion), James Lay (foot). Season-ending: Jone Macalai, Dillon Hunt.