While dazzling attack paved the way against the Brumbies last week, the Blues earned a final victory for the season based on whole-hearted defence with a 34-28 win over the Waratahs at Eden Park.
The Blues finished their first season under head coach Tana Umaga with eight wins, six losses and one draw. Umaga has preached all season that the aim was to improve game-by-game and they achieved that.
The five tries to four win was earned as the Blues managed to bounce back after each Waratah’s scoring movement, with some quite extraordinary defence led by Jerome Kaino, Steven Luatua and Patrick Tuipulotu who also featured with some telling runs.
“That is the thing we have been working hard on – closing out those sorts of moments,” Umaga said. “We’ve learned to hang tough because in the past we have let those times go.
“It was great to see we didn’t lose the will to play. Our game is our game and the guys are now able to back it no matter what.
“We just need to get more accurate about when to play it but some of the skills we possess makes for entertaining rugby.
“I was really pleased with that effort tonight. We have not lost to an Australian side and only lost to the Lions in terms of the foreign sides.
“I think we have now laid a really pleasing platform on which to build going forward. I am delighted and proud of the effort put in across the board by the guys and by my coaches and staff. It is really heartening and quite exciting looking forward.”
The first half was a dogfight, with the impressive Waratahs pack content to use their advantage at scrum time, and spend as little time as possible running their big forwards around the ground.
Their scrum superiority led to a penalty try after 22 minutes although the Blues answered just four minutes later after an excellent running play led to try in the corner to lock Patrick Tuipulotu.
The Blues hit the lead for the first time courtesy of a penalty try. A superb Ihaia West kick to the corner from a penalty led to a strong lineout drive, with the Waratahs ruled to have collapsed the maul on the line. The Piers Francis conversion gave the home side the 14-12 halftime advantage.
That advantage was only secured with some fierce goal-line defence from the home side.
The second half started in similar fashion to the first with a dogged attack from the Waratahs, rewarded with the game’s third penalty try as their scrummed forced the Blues on the back foot.
The lead was again short-lived with a stunning try to Piers Francis. It started with a superb run down the left flank initiated by Melani Nanai, and from the ensuring ruck Tuipuluto crashed through the middle, with the play pushed right where Francis jinked over and converted.
A 22-14 lead to the home side, shored with the introduction of All Blacks George Moala and Charlie Faumuina off the bench, did not last as the Waratahs took advantage of a dropped ball in midfield with the outstanding Israel Folou scoring to reduce the margin to one point.
Six minutes later that was cancelled with when Nanai scored, after an attacking kick from Ihaia West rebounded into his hands, with Francis converting from the sideline.
The Waratahs would not go down without a fight when former Blues prop Angus Ta’avao scored under the post as they pushed back to within a point once more.
Five minutes later the Blues rushed on to attack with Moala forcing his way through a gap to score. The conversion slid by but the Blues defence well to withstand the final onslaught for the victory, and likely end the playoff hopes for the Australian side.
Blues 34 (Patrick Tuipulotu, Piers Francis, Melanai Nanai, George Moala, a penalty try; Francis 3 conversions, a penalty
Waratahs 28 (Israel Folau, Angus Ta’avao, 2 Penalty Tries; Bernard Foley 4 conversions)