In selecting Piers Francis for the problematic Blues' No 10 jersey, coach Tana Umaga has bluntly stated that Ihaia West's performance against the Highlanders wasn't good enough.

But he has also given a general warning to his team. Against the Crusaders in Christchurch this Friday, a daunting challenge at the best of times, the Blues cannot rely solely on Francis for the creation of their attack, Umaga has said.

"We recognise his [Francis'] ability and he has to do that himself, to make sure he doesn't take too much on," Umaga said. "We've got to help each other out - don't just leave it to one guy."

West wasn't alone in having a poor game against the Highlanders at Eden Park, but there's no doubt it's time for Francis, who has started at No 12 for the Blues so far this season, to navigate the ship.


His appearance at the start of the final quarter in the 16-12 loss to the Highlanders coincided with a momentum shift, and he has the ability to play with an authority that will be crucial if the Blues are to have any chance against a team who have shown excellent resilience in remaining unbeaten after three rounds.

Francis played well in the position at the end of last year, both in directing the team and kicking for goal. The Englishman has craved this opportunity and now he's got it.

"It's a tough one," added Umaga. "We believe Ihaia has the skills - it's performance, what you put out there on the track. Piers gets the opportunity now to do the same thing and he's going to be in the middle of the cauldron. We recognise and realise the pressures that go on 10s, especially at this club because of what's gone before.

"Across the board we think we can do better and we obviously can skill-wise. We dropped a lot of ball and you can't do that in this competition."

The name Umaga didn't want to mention was Carlos Spencer, the last time the Blues had a first-five of the highest quality and a man whom last played for the franchise in 2005.

The search continues, but Francis has the ability to do well despite the pressure and while Umaga was reluctant to put a time frame on the return of second-five Sonny Bill Williams, the big All Black will help when he eventually returns.

"He's hitting all the marks he needs to," Umaga said of Williams, who is recovering from an Achilles injury suffered last year. An April return was originally slated, but there is a possibility Williams could be back before that.

"We just have to make sure we don't rush him back and he doesn't fall over too early.

"He's pretty much doing most things, but our medical staff are really mindful of loading him up too much too early."

Prop Charlie Faumuina has been ruled out by his back issue and another disappointment for Umaga will be the performance of Rene Ranger, who has been dropped to the development team in a bid to improve his match fitness.

The match represents a return to Christchurch and a clash against his former franchise for Jimmy Tupou, who has been moved from lock to blindside flanker.

"There's a lot of knowledge there," Tupou said of his four years at the Crusaders. "I played alongside a lot of experienced players who have played at the very top level. For me it was soaking up that knowledge and applying it to my own game."

The Blues team to play the Crusaders at AMI Stadium on Friday, kick-off 7.35pm is: Michael Collins, Matt Duffie, Rieko Ioane, George Moala, Melani Nanai, Piers Francis, Augustine Pulu, Jerome Kaino, Blake Gibson, Jimmy Tupou, Patrick Tuipulotu, Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, Ofa Tu'ungafasi, James Parsons (c), Pauliasi Manu. Reserves: Matt Moulds, Sam Prattley, Sione Mafileo, Akira Ioane, Murphy Taramai, Billy Guyton, Ihaia West, TJ Faiane.