The Blues will flex their depth against the winless Waratahs at Eden Park on Saturday afternoon, offering no respite for the struggling Sydney side as Leon MacDonald's men seek successive bonus point victories to open their transtasman campaign.
Few other New Zealand teams have the luxury of replacing All Blacks with All Blacks but that's exactly what the Blues will do this week, while welcoming back two headline figures and unleashing talented Taranaki teenager Jacob Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens for his anticipated debut.
The most intriguing change comes with Hoskins Sotutu, after his impressive performance behind a dominant scrum last week, being rested to hand Akira Ioane a start in his favoured No 8 role. Sotutu and Ioane claimed two tries each in the Blues' 50-3 rout over the Rebels in Melbourne.
All Blacks prop Nepo Laulala is also sidelined due to an ankle injury, paving the way for Ofa Tuungafasi to start at tighthead prop and Alex Hodgman to make his return from suspension via the bench.
In the only other change to the starting forward pack Blake Gibson replaces Adrian Choat at openside flanker.
In a major boost, Blues captain Patrick Tuipulotu is back from his near two-month absence after injuring his neck/shoulder in Hamilton on March 27.
Tuipulotu's return will come off the bench, alongside All Blacks loose forward Dalton Papalii, who has recovered from his medial ligament injury, and explosive outside back Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens.
The stacked Blues bench leaves the Waratahs, on the back of nine straight losses this season, contemplating no little let up from the opening to closing whistle.
Blues assistant coach Daniel Halangahu attributed the three tweaks to the starting forward pack to minor injury concerns.
"Hoskins has had a huge load but he's also been carrying a little niggle with his foot/ankle," Halangahu said. "He's got a turf toe issue that he's been nursing. With having Dalton back it allows us to give Akira an opportunity. He's been chomping at the bit to get a bit more time at eight.
"Paddy and Dalton are both really eager to get into it this weekend."
After finishing last year's test season as the All Blacks' preferred blindside, Ioane has gradually fallen down the pecking order at the Blues this season. Energetic cameos in recent weeks now earn him a chance to state his case from No 8.
"Akira has provided a lot off the bench and he's only been there because of Tom Robinson's form," Halangahu said. "We do have a bit of depth there but you need it the back-row is such a combative area of the game."
Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens is the last of the Blues' rookies to taste Super Rugby this year. Lock Sam Darry, fullback Zarn Sullivan and wing AJ Lam all seized their respective chances, and there's now an expectation Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens, the Francis Douglas Memorial College product who was chased by the Chiefs and Hurricanes, will do likewise having been patient to this point.
"We expect most 19 year olds to come in and learn the trade. He's shown enough that we believe he's ready to have a crack. His form through the Blues 20s programme was part of what got him the nod. He led really well there, he's electric with ball in hand and he's one of these young guys who will try anything. We'll keep the reins on him but give him the freedom to play his game as well."
Despite their horror season which includes conceding 11 tries in the bizarre 64-48 loss to the Hurricanes in Sydney last week, Halangahu says the Blues will not discount the 'Tahs.
"They're a wounded animal and you know what everyone says you can't take them lightly, they're dangerous and they've got some quality players. We've had a really good discussion around a team that's probably low on confidence but extremely dangerous. They scored a lot more points against the Hurricanes than we've seen from any of the Kiwi teams. We're clear we need to be on our game on defence.
"We're still not quite as cohesive as we'd like. We saw that in the first 20 minutes when we started to drop a bit of ball but we're starting to get the decision-making right and we need to keep those connections there."
Blues: Zarn Sullivan, Bryce Heem, Rieko Ioane, TJ Faiane, AJ Lam, Otere Black, Finlay Christie, Akira Ioane, Blake Gibson, Tom Robinson (c), Josh Goodhue, Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, Ofa Tuungafasi, Kurt Eklund, Karl Tu'inukuafe.
Reserves: Soane Vikena, Alex Hodgman, Marcel Renata, Patrick Tuipulotu, Dalton Papalii, Sam Nock, Harry Plummer, Jacob Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens.