The Blues, who keep finding new ways to lose to New Zealand teams, should be in a reasonably happy place in Pretoria where they are preparing to play the Bulls, but should they lose at Loftus Versfeld against a side without a win this season the spotlight may go on coach Leon MacDonald's backline reshuffle.

Their defeat to the Crusaders at Eden Park last weekend meant MacDonald didn't go against the sporting convention of not changing a winning side, but he has crossed another; the assumed need to continue building combinations in key areas.

With Stephen Perofeta moving to fullback, Otere Black, 24, comes straight into the hot seat at No 10 following his recovery from a rib injury suffered in pre-season and rather than playing next to the reliable TJ Faiane, a second-five who has shown the ability to unlock defences this season and has leadership experience with Auckland, he will partner Harry Plummer, a 21-year-old in his second season of Super Rugby.

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Plummer has often played at second-five for the Blues – and at age group level – and it may be that that is where he will play most of his rugby from now on. He is powerfully-built and can be aggressive in contact, but he's still learning his trade at this level. MacDonald has taken a punt on him to start – saying he deserved it and Faiane's playing time needed managing.

Midfielder Joe Marchant, an Englishman, is into his first few games in this competition, and MacDonald admitted he was still coming to terms with the pace of the Kiwi game.

"Joe is still finding his way in New Zealand rugby - it's a bit quicker," MacDonald said. "We're still working on certain elements but he's brought us some good energy. His workrate is high.

"Now that he's familiar with the players and patterns he's starting to communicate even better. He's been a real find for us. We're really thrilled with Joe and hopefully he'll continue growing his game and showing off his form."

Blues coach Leon MacDonald. Photo / Photosport
Blues coach Leon MacDonald. Photo / Photosport

He is an England international but still looks a little lost at times; particularly on attack, an area Marchant has said is his biggest area of potential development.

Wings Mark Telea, 23, and Emoni Narawa, 20, are in their first season of Super Rugby.

Fullback Perofeta, 22, has played at this level since 2017. Halfback Jonathan Ruru is older at 27, and has played at the Blues since 2018.

By just about any measure, this is the most inexperienced Blues backline to start a competition game in many years.


Previously there would have been veteran Ma'a Nonu or perhaps Sonny Bill Williams during one of his rare healthy weeks to fall back on for guidance and inspiration. Even having Rieko Ioane, still young at 22 but experienced at international level, would help in this area, but unfortunately for him and the Blues the All Blacks wing remains out with a broken hand.

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If it goes a bit helter-skelter on the Highveld, and not in a good way for the Blues, then they may find themselves in a big hole.

The Bulls, who have played only two matches this season – and lost both – have also yet to score a try. But they find some comfort in an opposing backline which features three playmakers and some pace on the wings, but without a genuine senior figure.

It all puts more pressure on a pack which got it wrong against the Crusaders – the Blues lost six lineouts last weekend – and the huge Bulls forwards will fancy their chances here too.

The Blues, with one win from three games, have the talent and pace to trouble the Bulls, but their line-up is not without risk.

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