The Blues rounded out their pre-season campaign with a comfortable 29-12 victory over the Highlanders at Unitec on Friday afternoon.
On the back of previous pre-season victories against the Hurricanes and Rebels, the Blues made it three from three at their Auckland training base, outscoring the Southerners by four tries to two.
Pat Lam knew his side would be in for a fierce contest at the breakdown from the tenacious Highlanders forward pack and so it proved in the early stages of the game, but the Blues did a brilliant job of tightening up around the ruck as the Highlanders failed to adjust to the new refereeing interpretations and were penalised off the park.
Rene Ranger was in scintillating form with his strong running and evasive footwork, while Michael Hobbs had an assured game at first five-eighths and Rudi Wulf worked tirelessly at the back.
Skipper Keven Mealamu got through 40 minutes unscathed in his first hit-out of the year, while Luke Braid also marked his return to the Blues with a solid performance.
Despite looking dangerous early on, the Blues found themselves down on the scoreboard as Highlanders fullback Kurt Baker intercepted a pass and ran 60 metres to dot down under the posts after just six minutes.
With the Highlanders continually infringing at the breakdown, the Blues dominated field possession and were camped in the opposition half for much of the opening stanza.
The Blues’ first try came 11 minutes in as Hobbs hit up the ball close to the try line following a penalty, before halfback Alby Mathewson darted from the base of the scrum to dive over the whitewash.
Hobbs’ conversion tied the game up, but it†wasn’t†long before the Blues found themselves ahead on the scoreboard as Ranger made light work of three Highlanders defenders before offloading in the tackle to David Raikuna who scored in the corner.
With Hobbs landing a penalty on the stroke of halftime to take the home side out to a 15-7 lead, Lam rolled the substitutes in the second half, introducing Piri Weepu to the game at halfback and Isaia Toeava at fullback.
Hobbs has been tipped by Pat Lam as the front runner to start at first five-eighths next week, and the†24-year-old†may well have consolidated his hold on the number 10 jersey after slicing through the lacklustre Highlanders defence to score midway through the second half.
After converting his own try for a personal haul of 12 points, the former Highlander was replaced by youngster Gareth Anscombe who also orchestrated the Blues backline well in his 20 minute cameo.
Highlanders captain Jamie Mackintosh narrowed the deficit for his side after finishing off a move to score in the corner, but a try to Blues Wider Training Group flanker Dan Pryor in the closing stages of the game ensured the Blues would comfortably take out the match.
Jerome Kaino was an early casualty, leaving the field before half time after copping a finger to the eye. He will see an eye specialist later today to assess whether he has sustained a corneal laceration or not, but it is likely he will be available for the season opener against the Crusaders.
Daniel Braid also had a minor head cut, while Lachie Munro rolled an ankle and will be assessed in the coming days.
Blues 29 (David Raikuna, Alby Mathewson, Michael Hobbs, Dan Pryor tries; Michael Hobbs 2 con, pen; Gareth Anscombe con) Highlanders 12 (Kurt Baker, Jamie Mackintosh tries; Lima Sopoaga con)