Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

Rugby: Blues back to work after opening night delight

Patrick Tuipulotu of the Blues looks to offload against the Highlanders. Photo / Getty
Patrick Tuipulotu of the Blues looks to offload against the Highlanders. Photo / Getty

In the immediate aftermath of their come-from-behind victory over the defending champion Highlanders, the victorious Blues players were told to enjoy the moment but to also put it in perspective - it's just one win in a competition that doesn't finish until August.

They were back at work today for a review session which ran the rule over a 33-31 win at Eden Park, a topsy-turvy victory that had the crowd of almost 22,000 enthralled and was the highlight of Super Rugby's opening weekend.

There would have been plenty for coach Tana Umaga to like; a pack which more than held its own at the set piece and breakdown, and a set of backs who, on the evidence of round one, can turn defence into attack as quickly as any in this competition.

They responded superbly to several setbacks, including Ihaia West's two missed penalties from in front of the posts and Waisake Naholo's well-worked try on the stroke of halftime which handed the away side a 24-20 halftime advantage.

The second-half, however, belonged firmly with the Blues, the introduction at the break of loose forward Akira Ioane and prop Charlie Faumuina and centre Rene Ranger eight minutes afterwards handing Umaga's team a big advantage and lending a sense of inevitability to the result, despite the scoreline deficit.

The future, after the well-documented misery of last season during which they won only three matches, appears bright. They look well-drilled, fit, and motivated.

Their next assignment is against the Crusaders in Christchurch on Friday night and Umaga's counterpart Todd Blackadder described the new-look Blues, who will welcome skipper Jerome Kaino back from a one-week suspension, as "bloody formidable".

There was a quiet confidence in big lock Patrick Tuipulotu afterwards when he suggested the Blues have turned a corner. Tuipulotu, who scored a decisive try in the second half following stunning efforts from wing Melani Nanai and flanker Blake Gibson in the first half, is a reasonably shy individual but there was conviction in his voice when he said the Blues were determined to make a statement in their first game of the season.

They did that, and now the challenge is to back it up against a Crusaders team hurting from their 27-21 defeat to the Chiefs and who have not lost to the Blues in Christchurch since 2004.

Assistant coach Alistair Rogers said of the victory over a Highlanders team who appeared confused by referee Glen Jackson's breakdown rulings: "It was pleasing," he said. "The boys were made to work hard for it, and the fact that they came out the other side was pleasing. It was a happy shed, but we realise it was only game one.

"We've got to keep our feet on the ground. We're aware that we're building and we're still learning."

Rogers, the Blues' defence coach and former All Blacks video analyst, was relatively satisfied with how his men went about their work, but there were a few caveats: "In a perfect world the opposition wouldn't score any points. A couple of things were frustrating, but you've got to put those aside and learn from them. It's how we respond to those which is important."

Skipper Kaino, sidelined due to his ban for a punch in histeam's final pre-season match, will boost the Blues on his return. He appears to be in top physical shape following the All Blacks' World Cup triumph and adds experience and power to a trio including Gibson and Steven Luatua, both of whom played extremely well.

"Having Jerome back and available is obviously good for the group," Rogers said. "He's excited."

- NZ Herald

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