The Blues, their playoffs chances slipping as New Zealand rivals the Hurricanes and Highlanders kick into gear, are gambling on a strong finish against the Brumbies in Canberra on Saturday.

Already without left wing Rieko Ioane, who is finally having an All Black rest week, the Blues are leaving Karl Tu'inukuafe, James Parsons, Patrick Tuipulotu and Dalton Papalii on the reserves bench as they seek a first win since their victory over the Waratahs at Eden Park on April 6.

Since then they have lost to the Chiefs and Highlanders away and a bye last weekend saw them slip to 11th position. Unfortunately for the Blues, the Hurricanes and Highlanders are going the other way thanks to a resurgence of form which suggests they will both be difficult propositions in the playoffs.

One of the big factors in the Blues' wins over the Highlanders, Stormers and Waratahs was the impact provided by the bench and head coach Leon MacDonald is going back to the tried and tested. The Brumbies have also just returned from a difficult tour of South Africa and Argentina, so they could be vulnerable in the final quarter.

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One notable starter for the Blues is Blake Gibson, who will lead the side from openside flanker after being sidelined by a badly cut knee.

Fellow loose forward Akira Ioane needs to come through training from a minor hand injury to start for his 28th straight game.

Blake Gibson and teammates at Blues training. Photo / Photosport
Blake Gibson and teammates at Blues training. Photo / Photosport

Right wing Matt Duffie makes his first start of the season after recovering from a serious hamstring injury suffered last year, with Caleb Clarke switched to the left wing. Sam Nock has his first start at halfback.

"We have a number of players back from injury and others who have been performing well on the training field or with their minutes as replacements who have earned their chance. In this regard we are confident that this starting side will do the job we want," said MacDonald.

"At the same time we did well earlier in the season with some real ammunition off the bench to add significant energy in the final quarter of the game and we feel we have that capability with this team.

"Also some of these players have carried some big loads and this is their opportunity to provide a different role for us.

"This Super Rugby competition is incredibly tight, perhaps the closest in memory. There's 10 teams within six points from third to 12th so these final seven games starting with the Brumbies are going to be a huge test."

A win is a non-negotiatable for the Blues because on their return they host the Hurricanes and Chiefs over consecutive weeks before travelling to Christchurch to play the Crusaders.

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One positive is that the Brumbies are one place lower than them in 12th but the Blues haven't impressed away from home this season and hardly fired an attacking shot in the second half last time out against the Highlanders in Dunedin.

Blues team to play the Brumbies at GIO Stadium on Saturday, kick-off 9.45pm:
15. Melani Nanai, 14. Matt Duffie, 13. TJ Faiane, 12. Ma'a Nonu, 11. Caleb Clarke, 10. Otere Black, 9. Sam Nock, 8. Akira Ioane, 7. Blake Gibson ©, 6. Tom Robinson, 5. Josh Goodhue, 4. Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, 3. Ofa Tuungafasi, 2. Leni Apisai, 1. Alex Hodgman.

Reserves: 16. James Parsons, 17. Karl Tu'inukuafe, 18. Marcel Renata, 19. Patrick Tuipulotu, 20. Dalton Papalii, 21. Augustine Pulu, 22. Harry Plummer, 23. Levi Aumua.