Saturday’s 30-12 victory over the Highlanders at Eden Park marked the line in the sand for Blues head coach Sir John Kirwan as he looks for his side to build on that ahead of Friday’s clash with the Brumbies in Canberra.
Against a high flying and dangerous Highlanders outfit, the Blues produced their best performance of the season to hold the Highlanders try-less.
Kirwan said that needed to be the benchmark for his side and it was important they stepped things up against the Brumbies in Canberra, particularly given they are yet to win away from home this season.
“Today is the line in the sand, this is the start,” Kirwan said in the post-match press conference.
“We can’t get carried away with it. It was an important win for us but we’ve got to keep working hard. We’ve got the Brumbies over there on a short turnaround, that’s a big ask and they’re coming off a loss so it’s important we keep working hard and guys who are coming available need to really step up.”
After unconvincing victories over the Crusaders and Cheetahs this season, Kirwan believed Saturday’s win over the Highlanders finally revealed the true potential of his side.
“We’ve been talking about getting an 80 minute performance and I thought the way we started defensively really set the scene,” he said.
“They put us under a lot of pressure defensively early and I thought our scrum was solid and we might have missed just one lineout so we were solid across the park and that’s what we needed to be.”
It was no coincidence that the Blues’ best performance of the season also coincided with the return of All Black enforcers Ma’a Nonu and Jerome Kaino.
After coming off the bench against the Cheetahs, the All Blacks duo made their first starts of the season against the Highlanders and brought a real edge to the team.
“I thought they were both very special for us,” Kirwan said.
“Jerome was very strong and Ma’a brought a calming influence and played really, really well so that was fantastic.
“I think there’s been a little bit of an attitude change within the camp and everyone is working hard. When you’re seeing guys get off the ground and working hard in defence you know you’re heading in the right direction.
“I think there’s a little bit more honesty amongst the boys and that’s been driven especially by Luke but also guys like Ma’a and Jerome demanding more of each other so that’s a real positive.”
Another key standout was Bryn Hall. In the absence of Piri Weepu, the nippy halfback made his first start for the Blues and produced a man of the match performance.
“It’s been a testing week and I think Bryn has been really stepping up over the last few weeks when he’s been coming on and tonight he arrived,” Kirwan said.
“I thought he had a fantastic performance making that break at the back of the lineout and getting to the breakdown and passing the ball.”
“I thought he was really strong for us tonight and I was really pleased for him, he’s been working really hard. He had a hard season last year and he’s worked really hard on his game and I thought he got a lot of reward out of that hard work tonight.”
One of the unheralded players for the Blues this season, Jackson Willison has been a key contributor to the side and once again showed his worth against the Highlanders on Saturday night.
“Jackson’s been incredible for us over the last few weeks. He’s just one of those guys who give you 100 per cent every week and as a team that’s what we’ve been talking about.
“We want guys that are going to give 100 per cent. He bashed his rib last week and played with a sore rib tonight, got bashed up again late but he’s been huge. He’s been one of our best this season.”
However Kirwan said he was disappointed by the final quarter of the match where the Blues were unable to put the Highlanders to the sword to claim the four try bonus point.
“There was a flat period of about 17 minutes we were hoping we might score an extra try and I felt we could have really put them away and we didn’t so there are things we can really talk about and work on.
“When you get a performance like tonight where things go well you can start concentrating on those real finishing things but I think overall it felt a bit flat the last 20 and it would have been nice to score another try but I’m pretty happy with the performance overall.”
The Blues travel to Canberra on Wednesday and face the Brumbies on Friday night.