Blues 12 Highlanders 16

It's one thing to win ugly. Another, totally, to lose ugly. But that's what the Blues managed - a right shocker of a game where they barely strung anything together and yet, probably should have sneaked home with the win.

They had their chances - three really good ones in fact - to bang in the final nail but as was the case all night, they lacked composure and accuracy when it really mattered.

The last minute will bug them for a while because they had the ball, the momentum and the Highlanders down to 14 men. The great escape was on, but the ball was spilled in contact as it had been so many other times and that was it. The game was over and the Blues now have one good performance and one win to show for their three efforts.

On the basis of how they played against the Highlanders, it wouldn't be wise to imagine they will have much more in the bag in a few weeks.

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It was unfortunate that New Zealand Rugby's executive team have been in London all week, campaigning for a fairer path to the playoffs. It's an argument supported not just by the lop-sided structure of the competition, but also by the perceived quality of the New Zealand Conference.

Unfortunate because this was a local derby that did anything but sell the excellence of New Zealand. It did anything but strengthen the idea that everything involving New Zealand teams is of a higher standard than everything else.

There was some fairly awful rugby from both teams. The core skills across the board were poor and without either team being capable of nailing the basics of winning and keeping the ball, there was no flow or pattern.

Instead, the picture was confused, erratic and frantic with so much possession spilled in contact and so much given away at the set piece.

What will have dismayed the Blues is that they spent all week focusing on their set piece after failing to deliver what they wanted last week in Hamilton.

Their mission against the Highlanders was to simplify things: to be more accurate and commanding at scrum and lineout and be more direct and efficient in attack.

It was a week where they were supposed to be all about getting back to the basics and yet it looked as if they had regressed from where they were in Hamilton.

Their lineout is the top priority to fix because it doesn't seem to matter who is throwing or who is jumping, the ball isn't being secured as it's supposed to be.

Their scrum came away with a similarly bad mark and because neither worked, the Blues couldn't control any aspect of the game.

Rieko Ioane was a spectator and it remains a secret as to what sort of attacking game the Blues are building as they simply didn't have the ball for long enough to launch anything.

Adding to the stuttering nature of things was the endless kicking from both teams. It was as if both had prepared for the forecast torrential rain that never came and weren't willing to adjust even though conditions were conducive to keeping the ball in hand.

Fair enough, except the execution was mostly dire. The Highlanders still reaped plenty of rewards, however, as the Blues were even worse at dealing with the high ball than they were delivering it.

Ihaia West, covering in the backfield, had a torrid night trying to diffuse bombs. He just couldn't gather them and his frailties there seemed to infiltrate the rest of his game and other than his goalkicking, he had a night that was mostly full of negatives.

Blues 12 (I. West 3 pens; P. Francis pen)
Highlanders 16 (M. Fekitoa tries; L. Sopoaga con, 2 pens; M. Banks pen)