The Blues produced a bludgeoning second half on attack and defence to beat defending champions the Highlanders in the opening game of the Investec Super Rugby Championship.
It proved an outstanding night, with the Blues coming home 33-31 in an seven-try thriller in front of a bumper crowd of 21,983 fans on a stunning night at Eden Park in Auckland.
The game proved as much about how the teams played without the ball as with it, with the Highlanders’ rushing defence often breaking up likely attacks.
The Blues enjoyed an excellent night with their set play, led by a strong game from prop Ofa Tu’ungafasi and captain James Parsons.
They produced a piece of magic from an Ihaia West kick with Melani Nanai scoring to match the early Ben Smith effort for the visitors early in the game.
The Blues went ahead after 25 minutes with a dab by halfback Bryn Hall that put Blake Gibson in a hole. The young flanker smashed his way over for the lead.
Two Highlanders tries late in the half, both the result of turnover possession and strong defence, gave them the 24-20 half time advantage.
The injection of Akira Ioane, Charlie Faumuina and Rene Ranger helped spark a physical second half by the Blues, with the boot of West giving them the lead again at 26-24 off the back of a series of penalties against the Highlanders.
It was capped when winger Patrick Osborne was yellow carded with 10 minutes to play. The Blues smashed forward with player-of-the-day Patrick Tuipulotu powering over by the posts for a 33-24 lead.
Smith answered in the corner three minutes from time, converted by Hayden Parker, but the Blues pushed back on to attack and held on for a telling victory.
“The guys really stepped up the physicality in defence in the second half, and that coupled with an excellent platform and set piece ball gave us some good front foot ball,” said coach Tana Umaga.
“They threw a lot at us but we showed enough determination and patience to wear them down. It was a brutal battle and one we are very glad to come out the right side of.
“It was a tremendous to get a result in front of such a big crowd. We will enjoy this and get back to the hard work on Sunday.”
Blues 33 (Melani Nanai, Blake Gibson, Patrick Tuipulotu tries; Ihaia West 4 pens, 3 cons)
Highlanders 31 (Ben Smith 2, Teihorangi Walden, Waisake Naholo tries; Lima Sopoaga 4 cons, 1 pen)