The Blues finally delivered on their exciting promise with a clinical 30-12 victory over the Highlanders at Eden Park on Saturday night.
With enforcers Jerome Kaino and Ma’a Nonu back in the starting line-up, the Blues found a new edge and produced their finest performance of the season.
It was no coincidence the All Black duo’s return to the side coincided with a huge shift in attitude.†
With Kaino marshalling the forwards, they brought a new physicality in defence, smashing the Highlanders behind the gain-line as Liaki Moli, Hayden Triggs and Steven Luatua all had stellar games to hold the Highlanders try-less.
While in the backs, Nonu brought a calming influence to the young halves pairing of Bryn Hall and Simon Hickey with his typical strong ball carries giving them a strong attacking platform and his deft kicks turning the Highlanders around.
After three rounds against South African opposition, Eden Park came alive with the local derby ñ a physical, fast and furious game which had the 16,700 strong crowd on the edge of their seat for much of the match.
It was a pulsating opening 10 minutes by the Blues who had much more sting in defence and repelled a patient Highlanders attack.
Taking the reigns in the absence of Piri Weepu, Bryn Hall had a strong game and played a hand in both the Blues’ first half tries.
His grubber kick from an attacking scrum ricocheted off wing Richard Buckman as the ball fell fortuitously into the arms of a rampaging George Moala who charged away to go over in the corner.
Simon Hickey’s superb conversion from the sideline gave the Blues a 7-0 lead after 11 minutes, but three consecutive penalty kicks by Highlanders sharpshooter Lima Sopoaga put the visitors ahead 9-7 on the half hour mark.
Hickey regained the lead for his side with a simple penalty kick before Nonu, who worked tirelessly all night, crashed over for a fine try.
Hall charged through a gaping hole from a lineout and as the ball was recycled Nonu showed plenty of strength and power to bash his way over from close range with the help of Steven Luatua.
With the Blues leading 17-9 at halftime, Hickey and Sopoaga traded penalty kicks before Charles Piutau scored a sublime try for the home side.
There was plenty of interest on how he would face up against All Black fullback Ben Smith, and Piutau certainly came out on top in that duel as he stood Smith up, palmed him in the face and went around him to score a superb five pointer.
However the Blues fell slightly flat towards the end of the match and were unable to secure the four try bonus point try as Hickey’s penalty kick gave the home side a well deserved and convincing 30-12 victory.
The Blues have a short turnaround, facing off against the Brumbies in Canberra on Friday night.