Blues coach John Kirwan has welcomed the inclusion of the Crusaders heavyweights Dan Carter, Kieran Read, Israel Dagg and Nemani Nadolo, all of whom will start for the home side in Christchurch on Saturday.
Carter, who will start outside Colin Slade at second-five, will bolster the Crusaders' kicking options for what is likely to be a match played in cold and wet conditions. Read, who like Carter, was a replacement in the defeat to the Hurricanes last weekend, will provide much needed go-forward, while wing Nadolo and fullback Israel Dagg will offer the attacking firepower not present in Wellington.
"It's great isn't it," said Kirwan today. "I love them, I think they're fantastic battles. I think there's a rivalry there that should be promoted and enjoyed. There's always twists."
Of Carter's selection at second-five, Kirwan said: "He's had a couple of seasons there when he was a young man. It's going to be business as usual from a game plan point of view."
A loss for the Blues, who have not beaten the Crusaders in Christchurch since 2004, would derail their play-off hopes, while the Crusaders would have another chance.
However, Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder said training this week had resembled that of final intensity. "There was a huge amount of disappointment and frustration following last week's loss, but we've had to push that aside and put our full focus on this next opportunity," he said. "We know that the Blues are desperate for the win, but there is absolutely no lack of determination and desire amongst this squad so we can expect to see fireworks on Saturday night."
For the Blues, Charles Piutau will play on the left wing rather than fullback, Kirwan saying his returning All Black deserved a start but might not last the match. Lolagi Visinia was playing well at fullback, he added.
Halfback Piri Weepu has been ruled out after a scan yesterday revealed a screw in the ankle he broke in 2010 has become loose.
The Blues team to play the Crusaders at AMI Stadium on Saturday, kick-off 7.35pm is: Lolagi Visinia, Frank Halai, Pita Ahki, Ma'a Nonu, Charles Piutau, Ihaia West, Bryn Hall, Jerome Kaino, Luke Braid (c), Steven Luatua, Tom Donnelly, Patrick Tuipulotu, Charlie Faumuina, Keven Mealamu, Tony Woodcock. Reserves: James Parsons, Ofa Tu'ungafasi, Sam Prattley, Hayden Triggs, Peter Saili, Jamison Gibson-Park, Francis Saili, George Moala.
Crusaders: Israel Dagg, Kieron Fonotia, Ryan Crotty, Nemani Nadolo, Colin Slade, Andy Ellis, Kieran Read (c), Matt Todd, Jordan Taufua, Sam Whitelock, Dominic Bird, Owen Franks, Ben Funnell, Wyatt Crockett. Reserves: Corey Flynn, Joe Moody, Nepo Laulala, Jimmy Tupou, Luke Whitelock, Willi Heinz, Tom Taylor, Johnny McNicholl.