The Blues, hoping to remain near the top third of Super Rugby's table and seeking their first home victory of the season when they play the Lions on Saturday, will have to do so without skipper Patrick Tuipulotu due to an All Blacks rest week.

Assistant coach Tana Umaga today stated his side, who have four wins from their last five matches, are "nervous" about this match against a struggling Lions team who have won only once this season but have been consistently powerful over the past five years.

The absence of big lock Tuipulotu may have contributed a little to that minor anxiety. The 27-year-old has continued his excellent World Cup form and his leadership and resolve is a big part of why the Blues are showing signs of improvement this season.

Beauden Barrett is keen to make his Super Rugby debut for the Blues against the Hurricanes - his former team.

Tuipulotu's performance as skipper during the historic victory over the Hurricanes in Wellington last week also suggests he is far more comfortable attempting to steer match officials to his way of thinking, a key part of the role.

Advertisement

READ MORE:
Rugby: Lack of meaningful tests is hurting the Southern Hemisphere game
Rugby: New All Blacks XV could have huge ramifications for global game
Super Rugby: Damian McKenzie returns for Chiefs match against Hurricanes
Super Rugby: Hurricanes make six changes to pack ahead of clash with Chiefs in Hamilton

With All Blacks prop Ofa Tuungafasi also on a rest week and big loose forward Tom Robinson ruled out due to a concussion suffered at Sky Stadium, the Blues have suddenly lost a significant amount of set piece power and defensive artillery. Another concern may be the way prop Karl Tu'inukuafe limped off the training pitch today.

There is also their inability to win at home this season to address, although both defeats have come at the hands of the Chiefs and Crusaders, two of the competition's best teams.

Patrick Tuipulotu and Blues teammates. Photo / Photosport
Patrick Tuipulotu and Blues teammates. Photo / Photosport

Form midfielder and Auckland captain TJ Faiane will lead the side in Tuipulotu's absence, with lock Gerard Cowley-Tuioti to have his first start of the season after recovering from injury to play 40 minutes off the reserves bench against the Hurricanes.

"I think initially he kind of looked at us a bit stunned," Umaga said of Tuipulotu's reaction when told he was staying away from the franchise this week due to a pre-planned rest schedule.

"But it's what all clubs have to go through. They asked for a plan early in the year about when we're going to rest [All Blacks] and this was it. Obviously we're on a bit of a roll and it's not ideal but it's not ideal for any club."

No 8 Hoskins Sotutu returns to start, which means Akira Ioane, who impressed during his first start of the season, goes to the reserves bench. Dalton Papalii starts at blindside flanker, with Blake Gibson retaining his place at openside.

"It's part of our plan to get Aki back to his best and he was amazing in terms of what he did when he was back here," Umaga said of Ioane.

Advertisement

"To his credit, he performed for 80 minutes. I don't think many people thought he could … but Hoskins has been outstanding for us in the first part of the season.

"He's had a good rest and also knows there's a bit of competition."

The Blues' consistency and playoffs ambitions will be tested by the Lions but it's an examination they should have little trouble passing after a double triumph in South Africa was backed up with a first away derby victory in seven years.

Premium gold

It was a challenging schedule Umaga couldn't help but raise a metaphorical eyebrow at.

"Coming back, I think it's the first time a club has ever done it – actually going away as soon as they get back from South Africa. We'd like to thank whoever did the schedule for that. It did test us but yet I think it's showed a little of the resilience we gained while we were away.

"We're actually pretty nervous about this game. I think there's a bit of an edge to us which is good."

Advertisement

A different test will be how the Blues' fans react to a team who can consider themselves on a roll and the family-friendly afternoon kickoff should help with that.

"Hopefully we're doing enough to bring them back and put bums on seats," Umaga said. "Hopefully we're playing a style of rugby they're proud of and happy to support."

Blues team to play the Lions at Eden Park on Saturday, kick-off 4.25pm is: 15. Stephen Perofeta, 14. Matt Duffie, 13. Rieko Ioane, 12. TJ Faiane ©, 11. Mark Telea, 10. Otere Black, 9. Sam Nock, 8. Hoskins Sotutu, 7. Blake Gibson, 6. Dalton Papalii, 5. Jacob Pierce, 4. Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, 3. Sione Mafileo, 2. James Parsons, 1. Karl Tu'inukuafe.

Reserves: 16. Luteru Tolai, 17. Joe Walsh, 18. Marcel Renata, 19. Aaron Carroll/Sam Caird, 20. Akira Ioane, 21. Jonathan Ruru, 22. Harry Plummer, 23. Emoni Narawa.