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Blues in 'desperation' mode as they seek vital win over Crusaders

Blues coach Leon MacDonald has admitted his side has entered a mode of “desperation” as they try and secure a place in the Super Rugby Aotearoa final.

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The Blues likely need to defeat the Crusaders on Sunday to keep their chances of finals footy alive. Source: 1 NEWS

The third-placed Blues sit a point behind the Chiefs, but face a strong Crusaders side on Sunday afternoon in Christchurch in a game they will likely have to win to keep their finals hopes alive.

The Blues suffered a disappointing loss to the Highlanders last Friday and have only won one of their last four games.

“We’re doing a lot right,” MacDonald said.

“Yet we’re not getting home in some of these close games which is disappointing. It’s the smaller things we’ve got to get right now, not big things.”

The Blues coach said his side were essentially now playing knockout rugby as they entered the final two rounds of the competition.

“There’s a desperation I think in every team, and there’s no doubt there’s a desperation with us, we want to go and put that performance on.”

However, the Blues were in no mood to back down from the challenge of taking down the Crusaders in Christchurch.

“Any time to play the Crusaders is a good time, we’re excited about it,” MacDonald said.

“We’ve still got an opportunity in this competition and if you’re going to win it you’re going to beat the Crusaders and we feel we’re ready to go down there and put in a good performance.”

MacDonald has made several changes to the starting lineup, most notably moving Harry Plummer to first-five in place of Otere Black, who moves to the bench.

Akira Ioane has also been replaced by Blake Gibson, as MacDonald seeks a “hard-working” pack.

All Blacks Karl Tu’inukuafe and Nepo Laulala start in the front row with Kurt Eklund returning from suspension at hooker with plenty to prove.

The experienced Gerard Cowley-Tuioti and Christchurch product Sam Darry are paired again in the middle row with skipper Patrick Tuiopultu still nursing an injury.

The Crusaders meanwhile welcome back All Blacks Codie Taylor and Sam Whitelock to their forward pack, as well as Sione Havili Talitui and Cullen Grace.

The backline is unchanged, and the focus has been on aggression, according to Crusaders assistant coach Andrew Goodman.

"If we can get more aggressive with our defence and more effective there, we're going to get the ball back quicker," he said.

Sunday's game is the Crusaders last of the regular season, with a bye week before the final on May 8.

The Blues face the Chiefs next week in Auckland.

Teams:

Blues: 15 Stephen Perofeta, 14 Mark Telea, 13 Rieko Ioane, 12 Tanielu Tele’a, 11 Caleb Clarke, 10 Harry Plummer, 9 Jonathan Ruru; 8 Hoskins Sotutu, 7 Dalton Papalii, 6 Blake Gibson, 5 Sam Darry, 4 Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, 3 Nepo Laulala, 2 Kurt Eklund, 1 Karl Tu’inukuafe.

Reserves: 16 Soane Vikena, 17 Marcel Renata, 18 Ofa Tuungafasi, 19 Taine Plumtree, 20 Akira Ioane, 21 Finlay Christie, 22 Otere Black, 23 AJ Lam.

Crusaders: 15 Will Jordan, 14 Sevu Reece, 13 Leicester Fainga'anuku, 12 David Havili, 11 George Bridge, 10 Richie Mo'unga, 9 Mitchell Drummond, 8 Cullen Grace, 7 Sione Havili Talitui, 6 Ethan Blackadder, 5 Samuel Whitelock, 4 Scott Barrett, 3 Michael Alaalatoa, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 George Bower.

Reserves: 16 Brodie McAlister, 17 Tamaiti Williams, 18 Oliver Jager, 19 Mitchell Dunshea, 20 Tom Sanders, 21 Bryn Hall, 22 Dallas McLeod, 23 Manasa Mataele.