Blues coach Leon MacDonald has again rolled the dice on Rieko Ioane continuing his incredible try-scoring form by selecting him on the left wing to face the Waratahs at Eden Park on Saturday.
The All Blacks No11 is due to sit out a week because of the World Cup rest protocol agreed late last year, but his appearance at training earlier in the week meant he was a definite starter – those rested are supposed to get away from the game altogether – as MacDonald takes a punt on him again providing the impetus for another victory. The Blues are chasing their fourth win in succession.
The gambling analogies are apt because MacDonald himself admitted today that there were risks associated with not selecting him. The head coach also suggested it was a "dilemma".
"We had a rough idea of how we were going to cut that up but … this is an important game for us and he's probably in his best try-scoring form [of his career]," MacDonald said of the 22-year-old, who has seven tries in three matches.
"It's important we keep riding the momentum with Rieko and keeping him playing. He's energetic and feeling good and enjoying his rugby at the moment."
No top All Blacks are supposed to play more than six matches in succession, although their game count reverts back to zero in the case of a bye, which the Blues had in round four. They are also supposed to have two games off a season, not counting the two byes.
After this weekend the Blues face the Chiefs in Hamilton and Highlanders in Dunedin, two key derby games that MacDonald will presumably want Ioane to be available for, and then a bye in round 11 before a run of seven games to finish the round robin.
MacDonald, who said last week that Ioane was due for break this weekend, added of his juggling act: "What is the right time? It's probably pretty easy to get that one wrong but we'll have to work that out as we go.
"We have the luxury with the draw and byes to play with that a little bit so we'll use that to our advantage."
One of the most pleasing things for MacDonald, in his first season at the Blues, is how his team's big-name players are leading from the front.
"Obviously Rieko is one of those guys but Paddy Tuipulotu's impact up front over the past couple of weeks is similar. The intensity of our mauling – he's a catalyst for that - and his ball carries have been influential.
"We put pressure on our All Blacks and best players to be best the players on the park and I think there have been a few guys who have done that over the past few weeks."
Elsewhere, Sonny Bill Williams' knee injury, which he suffered when setting up Otere Black's try in the Blues win over the Stormers, is likely to keep him out for a couple of weeks. MacDonald described Williams as one of the most professional players he has coached and that "if [anyone could return] earlier he [Williams] is the guy who could make it happen".
Josh Goodhue replaces Gerard Cowley-Tuioti as Tuipulotu's locking partner, and Caleb Clarke starts on the right wing in place of the suspended Tanielu Tele'a, with Michael Collins, not sighted on the field since round two, on the reserves bench as midfield and outside back cover.
Clarke was due to start that round two match against the Sharks in Durban before hurting a knee late in the week.
For the Waratahs, loose forward and key leader Michael Hooper has been ruled out by injury, with fellow Wallaby Kurtley Beale named on the reserves bench.
Blues team to play the Waratahs at Eden Park on Saturday, kick-off 7.35pm:
15. Melani Nanai, 14. Caleb Clarke, 13. TJ Faiane, 12. Ma'a Nonu, 11. Rieko Ioane, 10. Otere Black, 9. Jonathan Ruru, 8. Akira Ioane, 7. Blake Gibson, 6. Tom Robinson, 5. Josh Goodhue, 4. Patrick Tuipulotu, 3. Sione Mafileo, 2. James Parsons, 1. Alex Hodgman.
Reserves: 16. Matt Moulds, 17. Marcel Renata, 18. Ofa Tuungafasi, 19. Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, 20. Dalton Papalii, 21. Sam Nock, 22. Harry Plummer, 23. Michael Collins.