One win from their past four games has sparked bold changes from the Blues as they fight to keep their faltering Super Rugby Aotearoa season alive.
Leon MacDonald has rolled the dice for his side's make-or-break trip to Christchurch on Sunday by installing a new backline director and midfield combination, and handing two prospects potential debuts from the bench.
After a quiet few weeks where he struggled to impose his presence Otere Black has been benched in favour of handing Harry Plummer the reins at No 10, with Tanielu Tele'a set to start his first match of the season in a new-look midfield with Rieko Ioane.
With skipper Patrick Tuipulotu and Tom Robinson sidelined by injuries, Ioane will also co-captain the team alongside All Blacks loose forward Dalton Papalii.
The timing of the Plummer – used predominately at second-five by the Blues -and Tele'a selections represent bold moves from MacDonald as he attempts to evoke much improved decision-making and discipline following the self-destruction against the Highlanders in Dunedin last week.
Plummer and Tele'a emerged through the Auckland age-grade teams together but confronting the Crusaders in Christchurch is another prospect entirely, not least because the Blues last defeated the red and blacks seven years ago.
"We've made a few changes to the squad - we're looking for some excitement, some fresh bodies, some guys have been training really hard all year for an opportunity," MacDonald said.
"Harry has trained a lot at 10, he hasn't had a lot of opportunity there but he's got a strong running game which hopefully he can bring on Sunday afternoon.
"Every game is important and we've got full confidence in all the guys we've selected. After the performances over the last month now is the time to give them an opportunity. We trust them and we think they're going to bring a bit of an edge.
"We were disappointed in our performance last week, there's no hiding from that, we expected more from ourselves and we didn't deliver that. We also know this competition is tough. We're creating a lot, we're making little errors and out discipline is letting us down. They're very fixable things.
"We've made a commitment to be stronger around our discipline, execution and skills."
Hooker Kurt Eklund returns from suspension to start in a boost for the Blues and dynamic prospect Soane Vikena, after starring for the Blues under-20s, is in line to debut from the bench.
There is, however, a notable green tinge at lock with Tuipulotu, Jack Goodhue and Jacob Pierce all missing through injuries which is sure to have All Blacks centurion Sam Whitelock licking his lips.
Sam Darry, the 20-year-old in his rookie Super Rugby season, will be a marked man in his first match against the Crusaders since shifting from Christchurch to Auckland this year. With locking stocks so thin, MacDonald will hand Taine Plumtree, son of All Blacks forwards coach John, his debut from the bench.
"Taine has been picked in our squad as a six/lock. He's played a lot of lock as a younger player and he's pretty excited about his opportunity."
Elsewhere in the pack Blake Gibson wins the start at blindside over Akira Ioane, who did not do enough last week to impress despite playing almost the entire match off the bench after replacing Robinson following his early head clash.
"We're going against a pretty hard-working pack and we think Blake will bring an edge. He's pretty hungry to play. He hasn't played a lot of minutes this year. His work-rate, tackle, jackal and ability to clean rucks is going to be important for us."
The Blues sit third, one point behind the resurgent Chiefs, which leaves them needing to reverse their recent form to reach this year's maiden final.
The Crusaders appear vulnerable after dropping two of their past three games, but with a final-round bye they will throw everything into ensuring they guarantee their place in the finale this week.
"There's a desperation in every team and there's no doubt there's desperation with us," said MacDonald.
"We want to put that performance on. We're still scoring four tries per game which is an improvement on last year yet we're still not getting home in some of these close games which is disappointing. It's the small things we've got to get right now.
"They'll be having the same conversations we're having. It's the nature of this competition - there's five really good teams and not much separates them.
"We've still got an opportunity in this competition. If you're going to win it you're going to have to beat the Crusaders. We feel like we're ready to go down there and put in a good performance."
Blues: Stephen Perofeta, Mark Telea, Rieko Ioane, Tanielu Tele'a, Caleb Clarke, Harry Plummer, Jonathan Ruru, Hoskins Sotutu, Dalton Papalii, Blake Gibson, Sam Darry, Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, Nepo Laulala, Kurt Eklund, Karl Tu'inukuafe.
Reserves: Soane Vikena, Marcel Renata, Ofa Tuungafasi, Taine Plumtree, Akira Ioane, Finlay Christie, Otere Black, AJ Lam.