The Blues will be without two of their best front rowers Karl Tu'inukuafe and Ofa Tuungafasi when they play the Hurricanes in Wellington tonight, the former due to illness and the latter due to an All Blacks rest week which has them a little frustrated.
Leon MacDonald and company know they will hardly get a better chance than this to break their terrible away streak against New Zealand teams which dates back to 2014 — when they beat the Hurricanes in Wellington — and they would have dearly loved to have been able to select Tuungafasi.
The Hurricanes, who have already qualified for a home quarter-final, have elected to rest several players, including Beauden and Jordie Barrett, with Ngani Laumape on an All Blacks rest week.
But the Blues' chances would have been helped further had Tuungafasi, a 27-year-old who is coming into the form of his life, been available. The Hurricanes scrum has been a little vulnerable this season and starting the 129kg Tuungafasi, who has 26 All Black caps, would have helped the Blues exploit that.
It is understood they petitioned the All Blacks for a little leniency, given they have again failed to qualify for the Super Rugby finals and that their key players are about to get the next three weeks off, only to be told that rules were rules.
Alex Hodgman and Marcel Renata are the Blues starting props for the match at Westpac Stadium, with Hisa Sisagi and Lua Li on the bench.
MacDonald chose his words carefully when responding to questions about Tuungafasi's availability this week, saying: "That's a question for somebody else, potentially," MacDonald replied, before adding: "We knew he had to take a rest."
Tu'inukuafe remains sidelined by a virus which has put him out of action since the eve of the Blues match against the Bulls a fortnight ago.
The All Black loosehead was due to start that match but was a late scratching and his continued absence will be a concern for coach Steve Hansen because Tu'inukuafe is a big man who needs game time to stay in shape.
Before he came from nowhere to make his test debut last year the 26-year-old spoke about how his weight had gone north of 140kg and that it was the prompt he needed to get serious about rugby.
"Karl has only just started jogging today," MacDonald said on Thursday. "It has been a significant illness for him. We definitely could have used him this week but it's not in his best interests.
"It has laid him low and we've had to be really methodical around his return. His return to rugby will probably be through his club — that will be something the All Blacks coaches will decide on."
It goes without saying that the Blues will be desperate to beat the Hurricanes. They have broken their recent duck against New Zealand teams by beating the Highlanders and Chiefs at Eden Park but an away derby victory is elusive.
A key will be in remaining calm when they get scoring opportunities because while their defence has improved, their attack has misfired due mostly to a lack of composure.
A victory would be an appropriate way to see off Sonny Bill Williams and Ma'a Nonu and a potential glimpse into the future, with Tanielu Tele'a moving from the right wing to his more preferred midfield position.
"A win heading into the off-season would confirm that we're heading in the right direction," MacDonald said. "It would show how resilient this group is. It was a really disappointing loss at the weekend [a 28-29 defeat to Reds in Brisbane] — and to bounce back after a lot of setbacks would be massive for us."