Revealed: Key to Blues' success
REACTION: The Blues had to show real resolve as they hung on in desperation to edge a determined Highlanders in Auckland on Saturday, giving them a perfect three wins from three wins in the Super Rugby Aotearoa competition.
While praise has been fairly lavished on the danger-men on the Blues wings and in the midfield, it’s the playmakers and their expert kicking that may well have been the difference.
Then there is the team’s composure when they were down a man – the result a yellow card for repeated offences by centre Rieko Ioane.
The Highlanders turned a half-time deficit (10-22) into a 24-22 lead midway through the second half.
However, the Blues found something in reserve to score a match-winning try and hang on – despite a determined late surges by the visitors.
Captain Patrick Tuipulotu said the Aucklanders have found self-confidence that was missing when they were one of the worst-performing New Zealand sides.
“A couple of years ago, even last year, we weren’t able to hang on we didn’t have the composure,” Tuipulotu said on his post-match reaction.
“I’m proud of the fact we managed to do that now.
“We’re comfortable backing our defence for long periods of time.”
It was a finish that left Highlanders skipper Ash Dixon dejected.
“We had two opportunities there to go right down to the death, but didn’t take our chances,” Dixon said.
“I thought we did enough to get it but obviously we came out on the other side of the scoreboard.”
(Article continues below match highlights … )
Highly anticipated new signing Beauden Barrett hasn’t yet set the world alight with the speed and creativity with ball in hand that he’s known for, but his combination with Otere Black has made the Blues an exceptionally hard nut to crack.
From the first minutes of the match, Barrett and Black peppered the Highlanders back three with swirling high balls.
New Highlanders fullback Scott Gregory, in particular, struggled with the dropping bombs and an early mistake by the Northlander gave the Blues the territory and possession they needed to score the first try of the match.
It wasn’t just towering Gary Owens that Barrett and Black relied on, however.
Kick-passes to wings and loose forwards looming near the sidelines helped the Blues maintain their momentum while perfectly placed kicks for territory kept the Highlanders pinned back in their 22.
It was a slightly less glamorous, dinky grubber towards the corner flag from Barrett that contributed to the Blues’ second try of the game.
Barrett, from 35-metres out from the Highlanders’ tryline, threaded the ball into the corner and Gregory waited and waited, hoping that the ball would bobble into touch.
That never happened.
Instead, Gregory had to field the ball from deep inside his 22 and his attempted touch-finder was charged down by Hoskins Sotutu.
All Blacks flank Dalton Papalii was on hand to dive on the ball and score the try.