Playing the defending champion Crusaders before embarking on what is a difficult trip – logistically and opposition-wise - to Durban to play the Sharks and Buenos Aires to face the Jaguares is about as tough as it gets for new Blues coach Leon MacDonald.

While he will have various scenarios worked out for the first block of games, there are likely to be casualties in terms of injuries following the clash against his old side at Eden Park on Saturday which could kick them all for touch.

And making it tougher is the injury to No10 Stephen Perofeta suffered in the pre-season match victory against the Hurricanes, although this is mitigated by the Blues' depth at first-five following the return to fitness of Otere Black and emergence of Auckland's Harry Plummer.

The All Blacks' insistence that the workloads of their top players are restricted in a World Cup year – including Rieko Ioane, Sonny Bill Williams and Karl Tu'inukuafe - is something else for MacDonald to consider.


Given the importance of the first match against their Kiwi rivals, and need for everyone on the plane to be available for both away games, it all adds up to a juggling act for MacDonald, who will reveal at least part of his hand on Thursday when he announces his team to play the Crusaders.

It's obvious that a good start is crucial for MacDonald and the Blues, who limped home in 17th place, with only the Sunwolves below them, last season. They won only four matches and none against New Zealand opposition. Their final match was against the Crusaders in Christchurch in July – a humiliating 54-17 defeat during which they leaked four converted tries in the final 16 minutes.

It's unrealistic to expect MacDonald to quickly turn around a team that Tana Umaga, the previous head coach and now in charge of defence, couldn't over three years.

And yet, such is the competition for places in pre-season – helped in part by Auckland's charge to the Mitre 10 Cup final, and the arrival of MacDonald and forwards coach Tom Coventry, a similarly demanding individual - that there is a sense that something is brewing at a franchise that has delivered too little for too long.

It's MacDonald's good fortune that first-five Black, 23, is back from a knee injury that ruled him out for all of last year and that Plummer, 20, played such a standout role in leading Auckland to Mitre 10 Cup glory. But luck is a vastly underrated tool in a professional coach's bag and it could be that MacDonald has arrived at just the right time.

From L-R: Stephen Perofeta, Otere Black, and Harry Plummer. Photos / Getty
From L-R: Stephen Perofeta, Otere Black, and Harry Plummer. Photos / Getty

Once Perofeta, 21, returns from his chest/shoulder injury – and a scan will give a better indication of when that will happen – Umaga will have three talented first-fives in their early 20s all vying to be the starting No10. Early indications are that it will be Black, the New Zealand Maori player who controlled the game well against the Hurricanes, who will get the nod on Saturday and beyond.

Such is the promise being shown by Plummer, the New Zealand under-20 vice-captain last year, that the depth in this area is looking as good as it has at the Blues in a long time. If Plummer realises his potential over the next few years he could become the first locally-produced player to truly own the Blues No10 jersey since… ever, really. And wouldn't that be something?