George Moala relishing chance to test himself against Ryan Crotty

The curious case of George Moala should become a little clearer in Christchurch.

Up against Ryan Crotty, a lock for the All Blacks midfield, on Friday as the Blues venture south, Moala has the chance to push his claims for inclusion in June.

Cast your mind back to last year's third test against Wales and Moala's first start for the All Blacks at centre. That night in Dunedin he scored a try and made several telling breaks in a largely impressive 50 minute stint but also showed his decision-making had some way to go.

Moala went on to play two more tests in 2016, starting again at centre in the loss to Ireland in Chicago, but has ground to make up on the likes of Crotty and Anton Lienert-Brown. Despite struggles with his hands, Malakai Fekitoa also remains firmly in the midfield frame, as does Sonny Bill Williams and Blues team-mate Rieko Ioane.

Busting tackles comes easy to Moala, and he continues to prove his versatility by again slotting in at second five-eighth for the Blues after making a slow-burn return from an elbow injury. Being able to fill both midfield roles, in addition to the wing, is a valuable asset when it comes to selecting bench options for the All Blacks.

For all those qualities Moala is curious in that he can be frustrating to watch, often undoing all his good work with an unnecessary offload or poor decision. He knows his game requires work, and continues to chip away.

"The important one is directing the forwards around and communicating and talking on defence as well," he said. "Feeding the outsides and putting them into space is important too."

Back to the game at hand and Moala knows Crusaders second-five Crotty offers a benchmark. Moala's direct presence and line breaking ability provided one of few highlights for the Blues in their dire loss to the Highlanders at Eden Park last week, and he'll need to produce similar punch if the visitors are to register their first win over the Crusaders in Christchurch since 2004.

"When you come up against a midfielder like Crotty you've got to perform well. I don't know much about Jack Goodhue but I've seen him coming through Mitre 10 and he's had a great season. He's another player we'll be looking closely at."

Moala's task would be made easier if the Blues pack can apply themselves better at the set piece and he expects Piers Francis' selection at No 10 over Ihaia West to benefit the Blues backline.

"Piers is different to Ihaia. He takes the ball to the line and tries to play at the line and I like that. He holds the insides and creates space for us."

The Blues were particularly inept under the high ball last week but Moala is confident those handling issues were a one-off. With small adjustments he believes the Blues can upset the unbeaten Crusaders, though a run of one win from their past 18 New Zealand derby matches suggests otherwise. 

"If you look at the game it was individual errors and not executing our roles. It's easy mistakes for us to fix and once we get that right we'll be sweet.

"It's a big challenge for us going down there I can't remember the last time we beat them. It's been a while now so we're up for the challenge of trying to get one over them."



Photo: Dave Rowland (George Moala will be looking to improve his All Blacks prospects against the Crusaders).