The Crusaders are expecting an upgraded version of the Blues when they square off in their Super Rugby season opener on Saturday.
In no small part, that's due to one very familiar face - new head coach Leon MacDonald.
Crusaders assistant coach Jason Ryan says he's been impressed by what he's seen from the Blues through the pre-season, where the Auckland-based franchise has gathered with wins over the Hurricanes and Chiefs.
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Despite the small sample size, Ryan admits he's already seen the fingerprints of his former colleague on their style of play, particularly on the offensive end, where he can see MacDonald - who played 122 games for the Crusaders - has "stamped his mark".
"They look good," said Ryan. "They have variation in attack and look pretty organised, with some good detail in their set piece this year.
"I think he'll definitely make a difference. I think he'll want to get the boys to express themselves and trust their skillset."
MacDonald was originally brought into the Blues fold as an assistant coach, but after a review of the side's 2018 campaign, he made a surprise switch of roles with then-head coach Tana Umaga to gain promotion to the top job. Umaga will now play an assistant role as defence coach.
Crusaders halfback Mitchell Drummond has no doubts MacDonald will make use of some insider knowledge against his old charges.
"He's a great coach," said Drummond. "He obviously would've taken little bits of his knowledge up there.
"He's very smart and he'll have plans this weekend, just the same that we do."
The defending champions have shown early encouraging signs of their own, going undefeated through pre-season fixtures against the Hurricanes and the Highlanders.
Ryan confirmed they also had a full squad to choose from, emerging from those games injury free.
"It's a credit to the shape that the bodies have come back in. We've looked at how we can make our pre-season a bit better and look after the bodies.
"It's not so much about flogging them, it's more getting their minds right as well. We feel like we're in a good space."
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