The team bagged three wins in their challenging three-game schedule in a week, before resetting with an impressive victory against the Chiefs in Hamilton.
They have had a short turn-round ahead of heading to Christchurch to complete the New Zealand segment of the DHL Super Rugby Pacific competition before the refocus across the Tasman.
“We packed the three games in seven days into one basket, and then coming off that, our away game win over the Chiefs. The short week to take on the Crusaders is our next challenge to give an accurate measure on our progress,” said Blues head coach Leon MacDonald.
“It does not get any tougher than the Crusaders in Christchurch and we would not want it any other way.”
The Blues take a largely unchanged team south from that which recorded a shutout against the Chiefs last weekend.
The pack remains unchanged, with All Black Ofa Tuungafasi on his preferred tighthead side after a stellar performance. On the other side of the scrum is former Crusader Alex Hodgman, who is returning to the form that earned him an All Black jersey last season. After nine games for the Crusaders, Friday’s clash will bring him within one game of 50 for the Blues. Also included is another former Crusader in Luke Romano who has been a significant contributor on and off the field since joining the Blues this season.
The changes in the backs include the return of All Black halfback Finlay Christie, recovered from a muscle niggle that forced him out of the Chiefs match in the warm-up. The other change is on the wing where AJ Lam has forced a start with his effort off the bench at the weekend.
The other selections of interest are on the bench with the return of All Black prop Nepo Laulala from suspension and Roger Tuivasa-Sheck from injury.
“We need to lift again this weekend,” said MacDonald. “We can’t afford to be down to 13 men against the Crusaders. It’s the same simple game – a good platform to provide go-forward ball; be physical at the collision with and without the ball and play what is in front of us.”
The Blues team to play the Crusaders in Christchurch is (with Blues caps in brackets):
1. Alex Hodgman (48)
2. Kurt Eklund (30)
3. Ofa Tuungafasi (113)
4. Luke Romano (5)
5. Josh Goodhue (42)
6. Tom Robinson (38)
7. Dalton Papalii© (50)
8. Hoskins Sotutu (29)
9. Finlay Christie (23)
10. Beauden Barrett (10)
11. Mark Telea (31)
12. Bryce Heem (13)
13. Reiko Ioane (79)
14. AJ Lam (13)
15. Stephen Perofeta (38)
16. Ricky Riccitelli 5)
17. Jordan Lay (3)
18. Nepo Laulala (17)
19. James Tucker (4)
20. Adrian Choat (11)
21. Taufa Funaki (3)
22. Roger Tuivasa-Sheck (3)
23. Zarn Sullivan (11)/ Jacob Ratumaitavuki-Kneepens (5)