The Blues will be eager to end a horror run of away form when they run out in Taranaki for a key derby game against the Chiefs on Friday.
The Blues will be keen to end a horror run of away form when they run out at Yarrow Stadium to face the Chiefs in another key derby fixture on Friday.
Not since February last year has the Auckland outfit picked up a win on the road, but there are more than a few signs that drought will soon end.
Beating the 'Tahs and Reds puts them back in contention to top the New Zealand conference, although the play-offs is more of a likely hope.
Finishing at the summit ahead of their four local rivals would indeed be some achievement for the Blues, who struggled in patches earlier in the term. But with Ma'a Nonu in good form, Charles Piutau consistently solid, Patrick Tuipulotu making a name for himself and other senior players stepping up to the plate, they are just five points off the Chiefs. Of course, the other three franchises are all locked four points off the top.
If, and it's a big if, they do win, home games at their fortress then follow against the Sharks and Hurricanes which will be pivotal to their year.
Sir John Kirwan will undoubtedly be happy with the turnaround though – with the Benji Marshall experiment over – as their home form has given them a chance of business end action. However, their Achilles heel on the road is what may cost them the play-offs.
Beating the Chiefs is a tall order without the services of captain Luke Braid but Brendon O'Connor will continue to do a good job in his absence. Meanwhile, Ihaia West could be a wildcard late in the game as his try-scoring cameo last week should warrant him more time.
The Chiefs enter the clash buoyed by a decent showing against the Lions, who they ran six tries past in a good hit-out that saw Tim Nanai-Williams, Bundee Aki and Charlie Ngatai gain in confidence. Unfortunately for the latter he will miss out this week due to an injury as Nanai-Williams moves into outside centre while Tom Marshall takes the full-back jersey, with TNW's combination in tandem with Aki one that impressed early in 2013's season.
Dave Rennie will be desperate to recapture such form and that fluidity in their play and hooker Nathan Harris' performance last Saturday was a positive first step ahead of the run-in. Solid set-piece ball helped their eight press on, which in turn gave the backs a platform. Backing that up against the Blues will be key as he goes toe-to-toe with Keven Mealamu while Liam Messam faces Jerome Kaino as the Test window adds spice…if it needed it.
2013: Chiefs won 26-16 in Auckland
2013: Chiefs won 23-16 in Mount Maunganui
2012: Chiefs won 41-34 in Auckland
2012: Chiefs won 29-14 in Hamilton
Prediction: The hosts should be too savvy for the travelling Blues. Chiefs by 10!
Chiefs: 15 Tom Marshall, 14 Dwayne Sweeney, 13 Tim Nanai-Williams, 12 Bundee Aki, 11 James Lowe, 10 Gareth Anscombe, 9 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 8 Liam Messam (c), 7 Sam Cane, 6 Tanerau Latimer, 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Michael Fitzgerald, 3 Ben Tameifuna, 2 Nathan Harris, 1 Pauliasi Manu.
Replacements: 16 Mahonri Schwalger, 17 Jamie Mackintosh, 18 Josh Hohneck, 19 Matt Symons, 20 Liam Squire, 21 Brad Weber, 22 Andrew Horrell, 23 Anton Lienert-Brown.
Blues: 15 Charles Piutau, 14 Frank Halai, 13 George Moala, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Lolagi Visinia, 10 Simon Hickey, 9 Bryn Hall, 8 Jerome Kaino, 7 Brendon O'Connor, 6 Peter Saili, 5 Tom Donnelly, 4 Patrick Tuipulotu, 3 Charlie Faumuina, 2 Keven Mealamu (c), 1 Tony Woodcock.
Replacements: 16 James Parsons, 17 Sam Prattley, 18 Angus Ta'avao, 19 Hayden Triggs, 20 Steven Luatua, 21 Piri Weepu, 22 Ihaia West, 23 Pita Ahki.
Date: Friday, May 9
Venue: Yarrow Stadium, Taranaki
Kickoff: 19:35 local (08:35 GMT, 07:35 GMT)
Referee: Mike Fraser (New Zealand)
Assistant Referees: Nick Briant (New Zealand), Shane McDermott (New Zealand)
TMO: Glenn Newman (New Zealand)