The Blues have begun looking to the next Super Rugby season as they play out the last two rounds of this year’s competition trying to avoid the wooden spoon.
Coach Sir John Kirwan’s squad have been ravaged by injury and they also have the likes of in-form rookie loose forward Akira Ioane with the New Zealand Under-20 side in Italy.
Against the Crusaders, who are still in with a shot of making the playoffs, the second-bottom Blues will field a side with plenty of fringe talent.
There are a raft of changes from the 29-5 loss to the Hurricanes before last weekend’s bye.
Six of the changes are in the run-on 15 and include a Super Rugby debut for 20-year-old No. 8 Airi Hunt, while lock Will Lloyd, flanker Joe Edwards and fullback Matt Vaega get their first starts.
“For us, it’s important to give some of the youngsters a crack,” Kirwan said.
“I’ve got one eye on the future as well. It’s forced on us by injury but it’s a good chance for guys like Matty Vaega.
“Will Lloyd is going up against one of the best lineouts in the competition, so it’s a great opportunity.”
But Kirwan, who is still waiting to hear if he will be retained in the job in 2016, has also decided against including two players with All Blacks experience, midfielder Francis Saili and winger Frank Halai, who are off to European clubs.
Saili makes way for Hamish Northcott, while Ben Lam retains his wing spot.
With both regular captain Jerome Kaino and Steven Luatua out with competition-ending injuries, Hunt gets his opportunity at the back of the scrum.
“I don’t expect him to last the whole game, because it will be a lot faster, a lot more physical that he is used to, but he just needs to get out there and empty the tank,” Kirwan said.
“I’m not putting any pressure on them. Obviously our season is finished. They just need to get out there put their hands up.”
Blues: Matt Vaega, Ben Lam, Hamish Northcott, George Moala, Melani Nanai, Ihaia West, Jimmy Cowan, Airi Hunt, Brendon O’Connor, Joe Edwards, Josh Bekhuis, Will Lloyd, Ofa Tu’ungafasi, James Parsons (capt), Sam Prattley. Reserves: Keven Mealamu, Nic Mayhew, Sione Mafileo, Hayden Triggs, Chris Vui, Jamison Gibson-Park, Simon Hickey, Matt McGahan.