The Blues’ faint playoff hopes were all but extinguished tonight as they suffered a 23-29 loss to Super Rugby front runners the Sharks at QBE Stadium.
Trailing by 26-13 heading into the final quarter, the Blues got to within six points following a Tevita Li try and a sideline conversion from Ihaia West, but two late penalties killed any chances of a comeback.
The Blues certainly fronted up through their forwards against a monstrous Sharks pack, with Jerome Kaino producing another huge game along with Keven Mealamu, Luke Braid and Peter Saili who all toiled hard.
Playing a tactically astute game, the Blues got themselves into great field possession and strung plenty of phases together, but critical errors at crucial times cost them dearly.
Despite the Sharks playing with 14 men for 20 minutes as both Bismark Du Plessis and Francois Steyn were yellow carded, the Blues were always chasing the game and were unable to crack the resolute South African defence.
The Sharks continued their dominance over the Blues who have not beaten the Durban based franchise since 2005, and condemned them to their first loss at home this season, albeit in front of a large South African supporter base at QBE Stadium.
First five-eighths Francois Steyn and Simon Hickey traded early penalty kicks before Sharks hooker Bismark Du Plessis scored the first try of the evening after crashing over from a pick and go 11 minutes in.
Hickey pegged back the score with a penalty, however Steyn soon nullified it with a monster 40 metre drop goal, before nailing another penalty to put the visitors ahead 16-6 at the break.
The Blues started the second half strongly and when Jannie Du Plessis was sin binned for cynical play the home side made the numerical advantage count as skipper Luke Braid fought his way over the try line.
Hickey’s conversion got the Blues to within three points at 13-16 just five minutes into the second half but a soft try pushed the Sharks further ahead.
Ma’a Nonu was unable to gather the ball as it was hacked ahead, and halfback Cobus Reinach had far too much speed for the retreating Kaino as he grubbered the ball into the in-goal before diving on it to score.
Steyn’s conversion put the Sharks ahead 26-13, but the first-five was sin binned shortly afterwards and once again the Blues struck.
Making just his second start for the Blues, centre Pita Ahki showed some promising signs and it was his half break that led to the Blues’ second try, †bursting through the middle before Nonu fired out a wide pass to Tevita Li who dived over in the corner.
Ihaia West’s conversion from the sideline brought the scores back to just six points as the Blues looked to be closing in on the Sharks, but a penalty straight from the re-start and another one moments later gave the game to the visitors as they ran out 29-23 victors.