Blues coach Leon MacDonald envisions Beauden Barrett starting at first five-eighth long-term, but in his highly anticipated debut for the franchise, against his former team at Eden Park on Sunday after almost eight months out of the game, slotting him in the backfield made more sense.
Barrett, the prized offseason recruit, has been named to start at fullback against the Hurricanes, with Otere Black entrusted to continue pulling the strings from first-five as he did with poise before the coronavirus shutdown.
Ironically Manawatu's Black and Taranaki's Barrett know each other well from their time at the Hurricanes together. This week at least Barrett will, at some stage, transition from fullback to first-five later in the match with Matt Duffie offering backfield cover off the bench.
While he played the vast majority of last year at fullback for the All Blacks, MacDonald views Barrett primarily as a first-five.
"I see him as a 10 that can play fullback absolutely," MacDonald said. "At some point he will be in the front line, there's no doubt about it. But right now this is the best fit for our team, for the situation and where he's at in terms of his integration into rugby and his first game for the Blues.
"He's excited about the opportunity to get out there and this takes a little bit of pressure off him and working alongside Otere who he has a long history and good relationship with. Those two working together as our brains trust is going to be really useful in such a big game.
"Otere played really well for us his form was outstanding pre-lockdown and he's come out in even better nick and trained really well. We're pretty fortunate to have two pretty decent tens in our squad."
Earlier this season Stephen Perofeta made the fullback spot his own but his foot fracture, suffered in training that rules him out of Super Rugby Aotearoa, leaves the Blues light on options at the back.
"We're very mindful that Beauden is an outstanding first-five – that's not lost on us – but he's also a world-class fullback as well and we need that hole filled. His first game for the Blues in front of a big crowd against his old team, I don't think it'll hurt for him to be in the boot a little bit with his experience and vision to help be a calming influence and then, in time, you'll probably see him move into the front line as well."
MacDonald expects the Hurricanes, who have named Ardie Savea on the bench in his return from knee surgery, to arrive in Auckland highly motivated to avenge their 24-15 defeat in Wellington earlier this year when the home side finished the match with 12 men.
"I think there will be a bit of feeling, they've made that clear right from the start. There's a bit of get back from the last time we played them. That's good, and we'll be preparing for that.
"I don't think they'll come after Beauden but they'll love to beat him, I'm sure of that, as Beaudy would love to beat his old team so there'll be personal drive to get a result."
Selecting this team proved a difficult assignment for MacDonald, particularly in the competitive loose forward area. Hoskins Sotutu, Blake Gibson and the abrasive Tom Robinson form the balanced starting trio, with three-test blindside Dalton Papalii on the bench which leaves no room for Akira Ioane.
"There's a few guys we feel for who haven't made the team but trained really well. It's hard telling someone they're not playing when they've done everything right. Akira is one of those. His skin folds have never been so good and his fitness levels are great. It puts pressure on the other guys. His time will come because he's asking the right questions."
Caleb Clarke's return from the New Zealand sevens team immediately pushes out English international Joe Marchant, who is set to return to Harlequins early next month.
"Caleb brings a lot of different things to the table. He's powerful and quick. His form in the sevens was pretty phenomenal and he's brought that confidence back to us. He's got a big left foot and he's got a big workrate."
The Blues will miss Karl Tu'inukuafe's power – the All Blacks prop out with a minor hamstring issue. Elsewhere MacDonald has opted for two nippy halfbacks in Sam Nock and Finlay Christie, who is set for his Blues debut off the bench after edging out Jonathan Ruru.
Sunday's match is on track to sell out. On Friday 37,500 tickets had sold for a 41,500 capacity. That turnout alone brings expectations and pressure for the Blues to deliver on mounting hype surrounding the team.
"We've talked about it a little bit. It's an exciting opportunity for us. They're primarily going to be Blues people. It's what we dreamed of at the start of the year. Hopefully we see a lot of blue jerseys, blue flags, and that's going to give us a lot of energy to put a performance in."
15 Beauden Barrett, 14 Mark Telea, 13 Rieko Ioane, 12 TJ Faiane, 11 Celeb Clarke, 10 Otere Black, 9 Sam Nock; 8 Hoskins Sotutu, 7 Blake Gibson, 6 Tom Robinson, 5 Josh Goodhue, 4 Patrick Tuipulotu ©, 3 Ofa Tu'ungafasi, 2 James Parsons, 1 Alex Hodgman.
Reserves: 16 Kurt Eklund, 17 Ezekiel Lindenmuth, 18 Marcel Renata, 19 Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, 20 Dalton Papalii, 21 Finlay Christie, 22 Harry Plummer, 23 Matt Duffie