Two pre-season wins over the Chiefs and Hurricanes, both of which highlighted the depth in the Blues' squad, have boosted morale at the franchise ahead of their crunch first game against the Crusaders at Eden Park next Saturday.

It also means that new coach Leon MacDonald has to prepare himself to make some tough selection decisions, especially in the midfield where Ma'a Nonu distinguished himself in his team's 38-31 victory over the Hurricanes in Mangatainoka yesterday.

Unfortunately for the Blues, first-five Stephen Perofeta, who started against the Hurricanes, is unlikely to be available due to a chest/shoulder injury which requires a scan. The prognosis at this early stage is that the promising 21-year-old will be out for several weeks at least.

Fortunately for the Blues, Otere Black has shown excellent form after a long-term knee injury and is likely to start at No10 against the Crusaders, and there was better news too as far as veteran Nonu was concerned.


The 36-year-old started at centre and played 60 minutes in his first appearance for the Blues since returning from French club rugby and is an almost certain starter after scoring a try and showing the sort of leadership that comes from playing 103 tests.

The identity of Nonu's midfielder partner is the big question. Will it be the in-form TJ Faiane or All Black Sonny Bill Williams, who has played no games in pre-season? It wouldn't surprise to see Williams get the nod as MacDonald and the Blues seek to start the season against their old rivals with a bang.

"Sonny is a quality player and has trained really well and is available for selection," MacDonald told the Herald. "Ma'a's performance – we haven't seen him play yet and he played really well. One of the most consistent players in our whole pre-season campaign has been TJ Faiane who is carrying on his good Mitre 10 Cup form. It's going to be a hot topic, that selection in the midfield."

MacDonald added of Nonu: "He scored a really good try, carried hard and was aggressive in defence. He was really good actually. It was his first game in a while and he said the pace of the game was a bit different to what he had been experiencing in France, but he loved it.

"He's a popular member of the team. At 14-0 down, he was probably the calm voice which helped keep the composure in the group; he helped us keep our focus.

"There are some good players who have played good rugby over the last couple of weeks who are going to miss out. That's always a tough conversation to have but it's what we want [selection pressure].

"The midfield is obviously a key area. The front row was performed really well in the absence of [All Blacks] Karl [Tu'inukuafe] and Ofa [Tuungafasi] so there are plenty of selection headaches."

The Blues did well to fight back from their early deficit but MacDonald will know more than most about the attacking firepower the Crusaders, his former team, possess. Similar defensive slip-ups will be cruelly punished by Scott Robertson's men at Eden Park but the willingness and determination to hold the Hurricanes out for long periods impressed MacDonald.


"We got back to 14-all and played well in the second half. It was a good performance. We were thrilled with it. A lot of our young guys came on in the second half and although we conceded a few tries they still showed a lot of grit and fight.

"The willingness to work hard for each other was great. There were long periods of time on defence and we held them out.

"Our set piece and scrum in particular was strong. It's always exciting when your set piece is functioning well."

There have been many false dawns at the Blues over the past decade but they are at least going into the first game with some form and results behind them. Now for the real thing against the defending champions.