The first time Sonny Bill Williams touched the ball in the Blues' pre-season match against the Hurricanes at a sweltering Warkworth last week, he got his long right arm free and attempted an offload.

Unfortunately for him and the Blues, his support player over-ran the pass slightly, and Williams, with a clear plan for unlocking the notoriously fast-rushing Hurricanes' defence, passed anyway.

It went forward — a Hurricanes' scrum on halfway the result — but it didn't deter Williams from trying it again for the rest of the 40 minutes he played. That attacking intent is crucial for the Blues in Dunedin tomorrow night.

The Highlanders, under new coach Aaron Mauger, will rush forward too and they will attack No10 Bryn Gatland in an attempt to take away time and space from relatively inexperienced 22-year-old.


Gatland, described as "steady" by coach Tana Umaga after being named in the season-opener, hasn't got the attacking ability of the injured Stephen Perofeta.

He has a good kicking game and does the basics well. He also has amazing composure as anyone who watched him play for the NZ Provincial Barbarians against the British and Irish Lions last year will attest, but his ability to beat defenders through pace and footwork at this level remains a work in progress and it is here that then men around him, particularly Williams, with his Inspector Gadget telescopic arms, is key.

The offload is the hardest thing to defend in rugby and there are few better at the skill than the Blues and All Blacks second five.

Williams has again turned up to the new season in impressive physical shape and was very good defensively against the Hurricanes in his team's defeat last week at the Mahurangi Rugby Club.

Halfback and new skipper Augustine Pulu obviously has a big role to play at Forsyth Barr Stadium, and so does centre George Moala and left wing Rieko Ioane, who is likely to test the Hurricanes' defence with his pace by running close to the set piece or ruck.

Certainly, the Hurricanes couldn't stop Ioane scoring a stunning individual try from 70m out but the Blues didn't have too many answers to the Hurricanes' physicality and the same applied to the Crusaders in their big defeat to the Highlanders in Waimumu near Gore in their final hit-out.

That same defensive onslaught is coming for the Blues, and the quicker they deal with it the better. Fortunately they have in Williams a No12 who can do sleight of hand or sledgehammer, and both will be in high demand.

For the Blues, a good start to the season is crucial given their tough draw — they host the Chiefs next weekend. They can get it with the right attitude and a big performance in particular from Williams, a man comfortable in the spotlight, a player who wants to attack from the first whistle.