Blues coach Sir John Kirwan has confirmed Ma'a Nonu and Jerome Kaino will return via the bench this week.
Given the precarious nature his side finds itself in - staring down the barrel of a 1-3 start - privately Kirwan must have been tempted to throw his star recruits straight into starting roles against the Cheetahs at Eden Park on Saturday.
Instead, Kirwan is sticking to the policy of slowly re-introducing his All Blacks. The same theory was adopted with Keven Mealamu and Tony Woodcock.
Nonu will make his comeback from ankle surgery, while Kaino will play his first game in New Zealand for two years after returning from Japan.
"They're both available and, as planned, they'll probably come off the bench," Kirwan said of Nonu and Kaino, before justifying the decision to ease them in.
"They haven't played any footy. One [Kanio] has been in Japan and the other one [Nonu] hasn't played at this level.
"To run out at this level, it was a bit like Keven and Tony, you can't expect them to start. The following week they'll be fully available. That's the strategy we've used and we're going to stick to it.
"Ideally we get them out there for the last 30 minutes."
Mealamu, prop Sam Pratley and impressive lock Patrick Tuipulotu, who is sidelined with a leg injury, are unavailable this week.
In better news, after turning out for the Blues development team, first five-eighth Baden Kerr is fit for the first time this season.
Kirwan also moved to dismiss concerns around the long-term future of Mealamu. The All Blacks rake took no part in the failed trip to South Africa after returning home with another problematic calf injury.
"Not at all," he said. "He's a franchise man. He's incredible around the group and he's earned the right to be that age. I've got no issues. I want to make sure he's 100 percent right.
"He's feeling pretty good today so it will maybe be next week."
Elsewhere, Benji Marshall is in contention to retain his starting role at fullback. Kirwan reiterated his view that the league convert made a successful fist of his first 80-minute game at the back.
"I'm really happy with the way he's tracking. There's still a lot to learn but you saw him with the ball in hand. It's pretty special, really. He took another step forward."
Avoiding another horror start will be a major focus for the Blues. In Johannesburg last week they gave up a 23-point lead before finally launching a comeback.
"We need to play for each other, get more energy off the ball," Kirwan said. "We need to make sure we're excited off the football and running. If we're missing one thing it's a little effort. We need more effort this week."
- Fairfax Media
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