The Blues face another daunting challenge when they take on a confident Jaguares side in their Super Rugby clash in Auckland on Saturday.
These two sides head into this match on the back of contrasting results as the Blues suffered a 34-16 defeat to the Highlanders at the same venue last week while the Jaguares are brimming with confidence after they claimed a superb 25-20 victory over the Brumbies in Canberra on Sunday.
That result was particularly impressive as it was the Jaguares’ second successive victory on Australian soil as they also beat the Rebels in Melbourne the previous week.
The Blues have battled in 2018 having only won two matches during their campaign and are currently bringing up the rear in the New Zealand Conference standings.
Their home form has been poor as they have lost their last three on the bounce – the last time they lost more was a four-game drought to open the 2012 campaign.
The men from Auckland’s cause has been hampered by injuries and 18 players are currently sidelined with an ailment.
Tana Umaga’s charges have won two of their last four games against teams from outside New Zealand despite having trailed at half-time in every one of those four fixtures.
Meanwhile, the Jaguares have won four of their last six games overall, including those two against the Rebels and Brumbies – the only time they won more in succession was a three-game stretch from Round Three to Five last season.
A Jaguares triumph in this fixture will be a momentous one as it will be the first time they secure victory over a New Zealand side since they joined the competition in 2016.
The last time the teams met: These sides went head-to-head in a Round Six encounter in 2016 and the Blues secured a 24-16 victory in Albany, after having led 15-6 at half-time. Steven Luatua and Ihaia West scored tries for the Blues and West finished with a 19-point haul as he also added four penalties and a conversion. Gonzalo Bertranou scored the Jaguares’ only try which Nicolas Sanchez converted and Santiago González Iglesias kicked three penalties.
Team news: Blues head coach Tana Umaga has made several changes to his starting line-up for this encounter.
The Eden Park outfit have lost two further players from last week with inside centre TJ Faiane out for at least two weeks with an ankle sprain and lock Patrick Tuipulotu, who has been unwell this week.
Faiane has been replaced by Rieko Ioane, whose left wing spot has been taken by Tumua Manu, with Matt Duffie coming in at full-back while Stephen Perofeta, who wore the number 15 jersey against the Highlanders last week, reclaims the fly-half berth at Bryn Gatland’s expense.
In other changes, Josh Goodhue and Gerard Cowley-Tuioti take over from Tuipulotu and Jimmy Tupou as the starting locks.
Others have been rewarded with good form in training with North Harbour tighthead prop Sione Mafileo having his first start while hooker Leni Apisai comes on to the bench after an excellent performance for the Blues A team against Japan A last week.
The team’s captain, All Blacks scrum-half Augustine Pulu, has recovered from a foot injury and is set to return to action via the replacements bench.
Meanwhile, the Jaguares will have to do without without inspirational skipper Pablo Matera for this fixture.
Matera has been ruled out with a shoulder injury sustained in his side’s 25-20 victory over the Brumbies last Saturday. Full-back Joaquin Tuculet will lead the team in his absence.
Javier Ortega Desio will shift from number eight to blindside flank, with Leonardo Senatore coming off the bench to fill the number eight position. Meanwhile, Matias Alemanno is preferred to Tomas Lavanini at lock, with the latter taking his place on the bench.
Finally, Martin Landajo is given the nod at scrum-half ahead of Gonzalo Bertranou, while Bautista Delguy will line up on the wing in place of Sebastian Cancelliere who drops down to the replacements.
2016: Blues won 24-16 in Albany
Blues: 15 Matt Duffie, 14 Jordan Hyland, 13 Orbyn Leger, 12 Rieko Ioane, 11 Tumua Manu, 10 Stephen Perofeta, 9 Jonathan Ruru, 8 Akira Ioane, 7 Kara Pryor, 6 Dalton Papalii, 5 Josh Goodhue, 4 Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, 3 Sione Mafileo, 2 James Parsons (c), 1 Pauliasi Manu
Replacements: 16 Leni Apisai, 17 Ross Wright, 18 Mike Tamoaieta, 19 Ben Nee-Nee, 20 Lyndon Dunshea, 21 Augustine Pulu, 22 Dan Kirkpatrick, 23 Terrence Hepetema
Jaguares: 15 Joaquin Tuculet (c), 14 Bautista Delguy, 13 Matias Orlando, 12 Jeronimo De La Fuente, 11 Emiliano Boffelli, 10 Nicolas Sanchez, 9 Martin Landajo, 8 Leonardo Senatore, 7 Marcos Kremer, 6 Javier Ortega Desio, 5 Matias Alemanno, 4 Guido Petti Pagadizaval, 3 Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro, 2 Agustin Creevy, 1 Santiago Garcia Botta
Replacements: 16 Julian Montoya, 17 Javier Manuel Diaz, 18 Juan Pablo Zeiss, 19 Tomas Lavanini, 20 Tomas Lezana, 21 Gonzalo Bertranou, 22 Bautista Ezcurra, 23 Sebastian Cancelliere
Date: Saturday, April 28
Venue: Eden Park, Auckland
Kick-off: 19:35 local (07:35 GMT)
Referee: Paul Williams (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Brendon Pickerill (New Zealand), Cam Stone (New Zealand)
Television match official: Ben Skeen (New Zealand)