The sight of a fit and slim Beauden Barrett on the Blues' training field will likely gladden the hearts of the franchise's supporters, many of whom may still be marvelling at last weekend's bonus point victory over the Waratahs which featured some uncharacteristic
composure at the end.

But while the All Black and two-time World Rugby player of the year threw a few passes under the blazing sun at the team's Alexandra Park base and conferred with several teammates, including the injured Rieko Ioane, Barrett's mid-April start for his new franchise remains in place.

The 28-year-old, on an extended break after the World Cup, has been in and out of Blues headquarters following his shift from the Hurricanes, and his advice delivered today - albeit in trainers rather than boots - was appreciated, as his teammates prepared for their crunch match against the Crusaders at Eden Park on Friday.

The match on Valentine's Day will have a rainbow diversity theme but there is likely to be little love lost between the rivals on the field.


Rugby: Ian Foster lifts lid on what went wrong for All Blacks at World Cup
Rugby Players Association warns of a mass player revolt over South Africa/'Seven Nations' plot
Rugby: The rule that will be trialled in Super Rugby
New Zealand Rugby's day of reckoning isn't far off with a broken model heading towards bankruptcy

"He's in today to have a look around and see how we're going and we can check on him and see how he's going," assistant coach Tom Coventry said. "It's good to have him back around.

"He's in great nick. He's a true professional who knows how to keep himself in shape when he's away from the game. He's going to be short of a few games of footy but we've got a plan around how we get him ready to play. It won't be too long before he's back with us."

Blues hooker James Parsons, who entered the 32-12 victory over the Waratahs in Newcastle via the reserves bench, knows a thing or two about return-to-play protocols; a back injury suffered while playing for Harbour in the Mitre 10 Cup has made him a late starter for the Blues.

"Talking about the return to play for Beaudy - I can assure you it's not easy," Parsons said. "The old master here [Coventry] puts you through a few tricks."

Parsons added to what, for the media, is a rare Barrett sighting at his new club: "One hundred Super games and nearly 100 tests - there's plenty to be excited about. It's great having him around for the young boys."

The presence of Barrett, likely to return following a couple of club matches plus a development game, comes as coaches such as the Chiefs' Warren Gatland and Highlanders' Tony Brown, along with others, call for changes to New Zealand Rugby's policy of protecting their All Blacks at the expense of their Super Rugby teams.

Like Gatland, Coventry would like to see a more nuanced, individual approach.


"I know it's come under some criticism lately," Coventry said. "We'd love to have our All Blacks playing from day one, but they do have a long season… I suppose in future we'd like to have a little more of an individual approach to managing our men and I'm sure that's where we're heading.

Blues assistant coach Tom Coventry. Photo / Photosport
Blues assistant coach Tom Coventry. Photo / Photosport

"The comments out of the other camps have been around that. But we need to look at it from both perspectives. The All Blacks get their fair share of work. They need to be fit at various times of the year … it's about managing their workload, managing their mental workload which is probably more the case. The physical stuff I think we do quite well.

"There's nothing like putting your body on the line for 48 weeks of the year, it's pretty tough, so there needs to be give and take."

Blues team to play Crusaders at Eden Park on Friday, kick-off 7.05pm is:
Matt Duffie, Jordan Hyland, Joe Marchant, TJ Faiane, Mark Telea, Stephen Perofeta, Jonathan Ruru, Hoskins Sotutu, Blake Gibson, Dalton Papalii, Josh Goodhue, Patrick Tuipulotu (c), Ofa Tuungafasi, James Parsons, Karl Tu'inukuafe.

Reserves: Kurt Eklund, Ezekiel Lidenmuth, Sione Mafileo, Tom Robinson, Tony Lamborn, Sam Nock, Harry Plummer, Emoni Narawa.

• You can follow the Blues v Crusaders showdown via the Herald's live blog, and watch live on SKY Sport 1 from 6.30pm on Friday.