Young Blues feel the pressure
Being without backline generals Piri Weepu and Chris Noakes has been far from ideal as the Blues prepare for a do-or-die match against the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein.
Rookies Jamison Gibson-Park and Baden Kerr must now conjure up the side's first winning performance in five games without any guidance from their mentors.
"Having him [Weepu] around would have been good for the team in terms of his leadership and his knowledge of the game," fullback Charles Piutau said from Bloemfontein.
Returning from a three-week camp with the All Blacks, during which he made his international debut against France in the Steinlager series, Piutau finds himself in an unfamiliar position of having to lead, albeit from the rear of the field.
With 36 first class games under his belt, he is the third-most experienced starting back behind Rene Ranger (124) and Jackson Willison (102) who played his 50th Super Rugby game in Durban.
Piutau's organisational skills on defence have been noted this year and his vocal nature has a calming influence on players around him.
His kicking combination with Kerr will also be crucial against a Cheetahs team that relishes opportunities to counter attack.
"For me as a fullback I know I can trust that he [Kerr] will be making the right calls and I just need to support him," Piutau said.
The Blues were exposed up front at Shark Park, the rolling maul proving to be the visitors' Achilles heel.
Piutau said the Blues forwards have been challenged to step up after a lacklustre performance. Frustration mounted in the backline as front-foot ball was hard to come by.
A similar showing this week and it could be all over for the Auckland franchise with flanker Heinrich Brussow constantly looking for turnover ball to feed the Cheetahs' counter attack.
"I think the Cheetahs are a team that can do anything - they run the ball a lot and are different to the typical South African teams," Piutau said.
"They've shown all year that they are a dangerous team and they're sitting at the top end of the South African table.
"We're expecting a high intensity game; they bring a lot of enthusiasm to their game and we really need to match that."
The Blues take on the Cheetahs on Sunday at 1am(NZT).