Blues halfback Piri Weepu bagged two tries as the Blues snapped a three-match losing streak to defeat the Highlanders 29-18 at Eden Park tonight.
The 69 Test veteran played his finest game of the season, making a number sniping runs and backing up Rene Ranger who set up both the halfback’s tries late in the game to clinch the win.
The Blues heaped more misery onto the Highlanders who have yet to win a match this season and remain rooted to the bottom of the Investec Super Rugby ladder following six straight defeats.
Meanwhile the bonus point victory moves the Blues into second on the New Zealand ladder and fourth overall, temporarily at least, with more games to follow this weekend.
It wasn’t pretty to watch, but some of the ugliest victories can sometimes be the most beautiful as the Blues grounded out a crucial win.
Despite being dominated at set piece as their lineout misfired and their scrum backpedaled, the Blues showed huge commitment and courage in defence.
The Highlanders have endured a torrid time at Eden Park, winning just two of their nine matches at the venue, but they got off to a flying start, scoring 10 points in as many minutes.
Colin Slade banged over an early penalty before fullback Ben Smith scampered over for the opening try.
Wing Buxton Popoali’i created the opportunity, getting on the outside of Chris Noakes and palming him in the face as he accelerated through the gap.
Jason Emery then got his team to within metres of the line, and from the ruck Smith picked it up and managed to wriggle his way over for the try.
It was Ma’a Nonu’s first appearance on Eden Park since his well documented defection to the Highlanders, and his icy reception turned stone cold freezing when he was sin binned on the 18 minute mark.
Blues halfback Piri Weepu and Nonu are supposedly close mates, but you wouldn’t have known judging by the appalling cheap shot the dreadlocked midfielder put on Weepu as he dropped to the ground in pain.
However the Blues made the most of Nonu’s absence, running in two tries during his spell in the bin to take a 12-10 lead.
Flanker Steven Luatua continues to impress and bagged the first try for the home side, collecting a miss pass from Jackson Willison to crash over in the corner, before bruising prop Angus Ta’avao crossed the whitewash moments later.
It was a brilliant build-up for Ta’avao’s try as Charles Piutau brushed off three defenders and screamed downfield. Rene Ranger then took over as he crashed forward, and when the Highlanders were penalised, captain Ali Williams took a quick tap and passed to the prop who bashed his way over from close range.
A long range penalty kick from Slade gave the visitors a 13-12 halftime lead, and when George Moala was sinbinned for a reckless tackle on Popali’i four minutes into the second half there were ominous signs for the Blues.
The Highlanders scrum demolished the home side as they were awarded three consecutive scrums five metres from the try line, but some resolute defence from the Blues kept them out, and when the Blues finally got back to 15 men they flicked the switch.
Luke Braid, who toiled hard all night, made a strong run, and his inside pass found skipper Ali Williams in support who flicked a great ball to Rene Ranger lurking on the wing.
The mercurial midfielder then showed incredible skill to beat two players as he charged down the sideline, sucking in defenders before offloading to Weepu who ran in unchallenged for the try.
Replacement Phil Burleigh struck back for the Highlanders with a try to keep just one point separating the two teams, but the try of the season to Weepu two minutes later clinched the game for the home side.
Monstrous wing Frank Halai made a break out of his 22 with a strong run, and as the ball went wide Ranger, he beat three players in an almost carbon copy of his earlier attempt, once again offloading to Weepu who waltzed in for the match-winner.
The Blues have an eight day turnaround before facing the Hurricanes at Eden Park on Saturday night (kick-off 7.35pm).