Don’t count the Blues out of the Super Rugby Aotearoa running just yet.
That’s the message Leon MacDonald’s squad sent to the rest of the competition as they ended the Highlanders’ faint title hopes with a hard-fought 32-21 win at Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin.
The victory keeps them deep in the hunt for the Kiwi domestic title with just two rounds to play, trailing the league-leading Crusaders by just three points.
Based on the evidence provided in the deep south, the Blues could cause their Christchurch rivals a few headaches over the coming fortnight as their defensive prowess blossomed against a committed Highlanders attack.
It was their attack that proved effective early on, though, as a passage of dominance by the Blues kept the Highlanders back-footed deep in their own half.
The onslaught of penalties called against the home side eventually proved too much, as a powerful Blues forward pack laid the platform for Akira Ioane to crash over from off the back of a scrum.
The Highlanders looked to hit back immediately afterwards, but a loose carry gifted the ball back to the visitors.
That was all star playmaker Beauden Barrett needed to launch a lethal counter-attack, setting wing Caleb Clarke away free on the left wing with a cross kick near halfway.
Barrett’s opposite Josh Ioane felt the full force of the 107kg speedster as he was merely used as a speedbump, and a simple sequence of drawing and passing put halfback Finlay Christie in for an easy try.
A Ioane penalty – his first points in Super Rugby Aotearoa since returning from injury – quelled some fears among the home crowd of a first quarter blowout.