Blues are in desperate need of forward power
For all their backline firepower, if the Blues forwards remain victims of bullying they risk being contributors to the Highlanders' revival tonight.
Exposed at the rolling maul by the South Africans, pushed around at scrum time and exhibiting a shoddy lineout, the Blues pack needs to find some execution and mongrel at Eden Park.
Hooker James Parsons and veteran lock Tom Donnelly have paid the price for lineout woes. Tom McCartney and Hayden Triggs' first starts of the year are sure signs improvement in this area has been demanded. And not before time. The Blues can't continue to rely almost solely on Steven Luatua as a jumper. It's too predictable.
Jerome Kaino's starting return at blindside flanker should bring more aggression and physicality, but he alone can't stop the backpedalling trend. A collective shift needs to be made.
Perhaps Piri Weepu's serious health scare will unite the troops.
Much of the Highlanders' success this season has been based around rekindling their focus on scrapping at the breakdown. It forms the core of their mojo. Numbers pile in to contest and disrupt opposition ball, while halfback Aaron Smith has enjoyed clean delivery and protection. Unlike last season, the in-form All Black now has time to consider options and is making all the right decisions.
Ma'a Nonu's promotion at second five-eighth will be keenly anticipated - and not just by supporters. Charles Piutau, in particular, can't wait to pop up on Nonu's shoulder and burst into space.
Nonu, though, realises his forwards must make a significant step-up, or his impact will be nullified. Even a player of his class struggles without a decent platform.
''Hopefully we get some front-foot ball,'' he said.
''We've struggled at the set-piece the last three weeks. Our forward pack would be the first to admit that. We need to get that right and then the backs have to perform.''
A harsh self-critic, Nonu wasn't pleased with his cameo from the bench last week. Despite returning from a near four-month layoff following ankle surgery, he expected more from his combination with Jackson Willison.
''It was good to finally get out there last week. There's been a lot of rehearsal in the last two months, trying to get fit. I just need to get out there and play.
''I had one minor hiccup in terms of where I was positioned defensively. I got beaten on the outside and didn't really try hard to come across. I wasn't happy about that.
''I'd probably give my rating out of 10 a four off the bench. Hopefully, it can lift this weekend.''
Nonu is well placed to observe the Highlanders' turnaround, after enduring a torrid time with the southern franchise last year.
''They've gone better with the inclusion of Tony Brown,'' he noted of the new assistant coach.
''I enjoyed my time and there's a lot of good players down there.
''They've got a good kicking strategy. Ben Smith has been dangerous at the back, Aaron Smith as well. I like the potential of Malakai Fekitoa. He's been the rising star the last four weeks of Super Rugby. It's good to see the midfield talent in New Zealand.''
The potential collisions between Fekitoa and Nonu will be worth the price of admission alone. But if McCartney, Triggs and Kaino can't solve the Blues battles up-front, expect the visiting Smith's to again run rampant.