A victory for the Blues over the Stormers in Cape Town would have represented real progress - tangible evidence that they will be a genuine threat in this competition rather than a team who reserve their best for late in the season when they are out of playoff contention and the pressure is off.

Instead, and despite their relatively comfortable build-up in comparison with their opponents, they put in one of their worst shifts of the season; a first half so lacklustre, it almost defied belief, followed by a second half in which they were more engaged but made too many errors.

It's Groundhog Day again for their long-suffering supporters. The 37-20 defeat at Newlands would have been disappointing on so many levels for them after a remarkable comeback against the Lions in Johannesburg a week earlier but perhaps the worst of it is the nagging question which has related to this team for a long time - why do they fold when the expectation levels rise?

Head coach Tana Umaga had a note of weary resignation in his voice afterwards - a bit like he did after the defeat to the Chiefs at Eden Park a fortnight ago, another match in which his side failed to deliver despite playing opponents who had suffered a disrupted build-up.

Advertisement

But forwards coach Steve Jackson was far more direct in an interview with Radio Sport, calling the recent performance "unacceptable" and saying the spotlight would go on every individual in the squad - player and management member alike.

"People need to have a look at themselves," Jackson said. "It's unacceptable to go out there and put in a performance that we're not happy with, and neither are our families and friends back home.

"The guys are hurting, there's no doubt, but we keep on saying that too often. The long flight home might do some of our guys some good, and some of our management good, too.

"It's unacceptable and we won't stand for that too much more."

Fortunately, or unfortunately, depending on your viewpoint, the Blues won't get a chance to right any wrongs this weekend.

They have a bye, which should allow them to regroup before playing the Sharks at Eden Park on March 31.

Hopefully Sonny Bill Williams will have recovered from a hand injury by then - he had an X-ray on it in Cape Town but the issue remains unresolved - and skipper and halfback Augustine Pulu would be a handy acquisition following his foot injury which meant he didn't travel to South Africa.

The Stormers had looked vulnerable given their recent long-haul flight home to Cape Town from Down Under, where they had lost all three of their matches.

They were hit by injury and illness and hardly trained this week but were by far the more committed side.

They tore into the Blues with a ferocity the visitors couldn't handle and quickly went to a 24-3 lead.

The Blues rallied a little in the second half, scoring tries through Akira Ioane, Rieko Ioane and Michael Collins, but the points they leaked meant there was little hope of repeating last weekend's heroics at Ellis Park.

Jackson added: "We thought the guys were ready to go but we didn't fire a shot in the first 20 minutes.

"We didn't turn up - attack, defence, most facets of the game - we lacked urgency and attitude."

It had appeared the Blues had turned a corner at Ellis Park, but instead it led to a cul-de-sac.

Back to the bottom of the New Zealand conference, they have to try again to find the consistency they haven't had at the franchise since 2011 - the last time they made the playoffs.

"It's pretty obvious we're not happy with where we at," Umaga said. "We've been in all games right to the end. We just can't give teams head starts and think it's going to be easy for us. We have to have composure, and control that, and not give teams easy points."