If the Blues need inspiration to find the level of performance they will need to beat the defending champion Crusaders in Christchurch on Saturday they could do worse than to follow the example of their veteran dreadlocked midfielder Ma'a Nonu, a player setting a new standard in consistency.

He's also setting a new standard in toughness. Assistant coach Tana Umaga today revealed that Nonu, who turned 37 on Tuesday, has not missed a training session all season and that's something few of his younger teammates have managed.

The pressure on Nonu to provide his unique brand of leadership every week has increased significantly following Sonny Bill Williams' knee injury six weeks ago, but he just keeps going.

Nonu was a big factor in the Blues beating the Chiefs last weekend – the first time they have done so since 2011 – and he will need to be a steady influence again as his side attempt to beat the Crusaders at their fortress, a task that remains one of the toughest in the game.

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Last Saturday at Eden Park he shook off a cut near an eye caused by a brutal confrontation with Chiefs flanker Mitch Karpik, and the Blues' discipline and relative calmness on defence in the final fraught 20 minutes was largely down to him. If he doesn't add to his 103 All Blacks caps this year it won't be through a lack of effort.

"From where he was to where he is now – it's not just luck," Umaga said. "When we're talking about backing up week-in and week-out, he's been doing that for a long time. He's one of the first here in the morning preparing his body. He's one of the last to leave. There are no days off for him. That's hopefully what the boys are learning.

"He hasn't missed a training session and refuses to miss a training session. He refuses to wear a bib which shows you're not allowed contact because he just wants to show it's not an age thing – that's just a number. If you look after yourself, that's how performances come.

"Obviously with Sonny's injury, he's been able to carry that load of experience for a young backline. Being outside young Harry [Plummer] and inside TJ Faiane, who's having a great season as well … he's doing well not so much with his words but with his actions. He doesn't want to say too much but he is really adding a lot of experience to those guys around him."

Ma'a Nonu in action against the Brumbies. Photo / Photosport
Ma'a Nonu in action against the Brumbies. Photo / Photosport

The Blues are expecting a backlash in Christchurch from a side they feel will be under siege following the recent allegations against some of their players in Cape Town.

Head coach Leon MacDonald, a former Crusaders assistant, sidestepped the opportunity to talk to the media today, preferring to leave the job to Umaga, and there is a feeling within the Blues that their job could be now even more difficult.

"A bit of adversity and a quality side and club like the Crusaders, who are very tight as it is, anything that can bring them together is very worrisome for us.

"We're thinking it probably will go that way so it will make our job even more difficult to go down there and get a result."

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The Blues' big final training session of the week at their Alexandra Park headquarters was noticeable for its length and physicality, with blindside flanker Tom Robinson, named to start in Christchurch, a possible casualty with a swollen right knee.

"We want to back up our performance from the weekend and go to another level before we go to the fortress that is Christchurch," was Umaga's explanation for the big contacts between teammates.

"It doesn't get any easier so we've put a lot of heat on our non-23 guys to really get the guys going."

Prop Karl Tu'inukuafe remains out with illness, with flanker Dalton Papalii ruled out with concussion.

Blues team to play the Crusaders in Christchurch on Saturday, kick-off 7.35pm:

15. Melani Nanai, 14. Caleb Clark, 13. TJ Faiane, 12. Ma'a Nonu, 11. Rieko Ioane, 10. Harry Plummer, 9. Jonathan Ruru, 8. Akira Ioane, 7. Blake Gibson (c), 6. Tom Robinson, 5. Scott Scrafton, 4. Patrick Tuipulotu, 3. Ofa Tuungafasi, 2. Leni Apisai, 1. Alex Hodgman.

Reserves: 16. James Parsons, 17. Marcel Renata, 18. Lua Li, 19. Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, 20. Hoskins Sotutu, 21. Augustine Pulu, 22. Otere Black, 23. Levi Aumua.