By Patrick McKendry, NZ Herald

It appears that gone are the days when Blues players virtually selected themselves providing their form was adequate; Hoskins Sotutu’s surprise early takeover of the No 8 jersey is evidence of that and Otere Black’s form at first-five has now provided a relatively high benchmark for Beauden Barrett.

Sotutu, only 21, has been the find of the season so far with his explosive running and high work rate, although he will step aside this week to allow Akira Ioane to prove his credentials against the Hurricanes in Wellington.

It will be Ioane’s first start of the season, an unusual situation for a man who started every game over the past two seasons.

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He was left at home in Auckland when the Blues went on their successful tour of South Africa where they beat the Bulls and Stormers and part of their recent success must be down to the increased competition for places in the squad.

Coach Leon MacDonald and before him Tana Umaga have long talked about creating that sort of healthy tension and now MacDonald seems to have found the right balance in terms of getting high levels of performance out of his men.

That’s not always easy when expectations have to be managed and there will be scrutiny on Ioane’s performance against the Hurricanes at Sky Stadium. Ioane was superb last year but the Blues (and All Blacks) coaches felt his performances dropped due to tiredness. That shouldn’t be an issue this season.

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