The last time the Blues played the Crusaders they leaked four converted tries in a woeful final 16 minutes in Christchurch, but all the indications are that they will be far more competitive in the final quarter against the same team at Eden Park on Saturday.

All Blacks midfielder Sonny Bill Williams will be on the field by then after being named on the reserves bench by coach Leon MacDonald, as predicted by the Herald. And so will All Blacks props Karl Tu'inukuafe and Ofa Tuungafasi, plus lock Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, who was such a standout for the Blues last season.

Ma'a Nonu, named to start at centre outside TJ Faiane, probably won't be. Nonu has played 60 minutes in pre-season – 60 more than Williams – and will probably depart to allow for his friend and former All Black teammate to move to second-five with Faiane moving out one.

It all adds up to a fascinating match-up because MacDonald has named a strong team, with Rieko Ioane on the left wing, Melani Nanai on the right, and first-five Otere Black and halfback Jonathan Ruru charged with navigating the team, led by lock Patrick Tuipulotu, around the field.

Sonny Bill Williams and Ma'a Nonu. Photo / Photosport
Sonny Bill Williams and Ma'a Nonu. Photo / Photosport

Starting props Alex Hodgman and Sione Mafileo are in good form and with Josh Goodhue at lock alongside Tuipuluto and fellow Northlander Tom Robinson at blindside flanker, the Blues have a very tall lineout.

Akira Ioane, starting at No8, will be playing his 50th game for the Blues.

Dalton Papalii, who made his All Blacks debut last year, will start at openside flanker in the injury-forced absence of co-captain Blake Gibson, with Harry Plummer named as back-up No10. Stephen Perofeta may need surgery on his damaged pectoral muscle, suffered last weekend against the Hurricanes.

The starting line-up will have the confidence of a good pre-season behind them, plus, presumably a good idea of exactly what game-plan MacDonald and fellow coaches Tom Coventry and Tana Umaga have settled on.

Playing the defending champions will be a big test for them, but the same is true also for Scott Robertson's men, because there remains a big element of the unknown in a big year for rugby in this country and beyond. Can MacDonald work his magic from the start against his old side who are led by the best coach in the competition? It could be a close one.

Blues team to play the Crusaders at Eden Park on Saturday, kick-off 7.35pm is: Michael Collins, Melani Nanai, Ma'a Nonu, TJ Faiane, Rieko Ioane, Otere Black, Jonathan Ruru, Akira Ioane, Dalton Papalii, Tom Robinson, Josh Goodhue, Patrick Tuipulotu ©, Sione Mafileo, James Parsons, Alex Hodgman.

Reserves: Matt Moulds, Karl Tu'inukuafe, Ofa Tuungafasi, Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, Matt Matich, Augustine Pulu, Harry Plummer, Sonny Bill Williams.