Blues 20
Highlanders 27

European financial markets are likely to sort themselves out more easily than the Blues.

The latter is in a bigger mess, in more need of an ingenious mechanism to find a way out of the predicament currently faced.

Once again the Blues were an industrious factory of bad ideas and little control until far too late in the piece.


That can just about go without saying these days. Most people take that as a given now - each week a case of hoping the damage is not going to be as severe as it often seems it could be.

The Blues don't quite lurch from one game to the next - they hang perilously, only ever just clinging on mentally and physically with total humiliation never far away.

When they fell 27-6 behind early in the second half, disaster loomed. They avoided it, yet no one should be fooled by the final score.

The Highlanders had mentally packed up and moved on after collecting the bonus point with an age remaining. That opened the door for the Blues to adapt the score, if not the reality of the game.

While they offered so little in the way of accuracy, precision or innovation, they did, again, at least limit the shame by their willingness. They don't lack for heart or commitment and in Francis Saili, they may have found another keeper for next season. The younger brother of Peter was more than just relentless energy; there was poise and craft to his work, an awareness he wasn't just there to stick his head down and charge.

Those with the ability to see the glass half-full could be beginning to find reason for cautious optimism. Not only did Francis Sailii hold up well against a quality operator in Tamati Ellison, but Luke Braid and Steven Luatua had a menacing look about them.

When Ma'a Nonu came off the bench in the second half the Blues looked more threatening than they have all season.

Nonu was up for it, finding holes and taking his side forward. It allowed for some continuity, some expression and at times, even a growing sense of hope that a flame was flickering in the ashes.


But the optimism has to be particularly cautious. The Blues, after all, stood about watching a five metre lineout that went straight to Adam Thomson, allowing him to catch and walk over. The Blues still made horrid basic errors inside their own 22. They still lacked any starter moves, still missed a million tackles, still booted the ball aimlessly away and ultimately, were still hammered.

The Blues also benefited from an unusual degree of reverence shown by the Highlanders. It's easy to forget in this train-smash season that Eden Park has previously been a fortress of sorts - certainly not a ground where the Highlanders have known good times. Just once before had they won at the hallowed ground; victories in Auckland are to be treasured. No matter the broken bits and pieces swept into the Blues' jerseys, the Highlanders carried that burden of history.

It took them the better part of half an hour to settle and, even though they scored two tries to get the scoreboard daylight they were after, they still looked a bit edgy.

They couldn't find their customary width. They couldn't play at the tempo they wanted and that was as much to do with their own errors and a rising penalty count as it was a tenacious and committed effort from the home side at the collisions. When it's just straight brawn required, even the Blues can manage that and they did enough all game to slow the Highlanders' possession.

Even the first two tries the Highlanders scored were a touch fortunate - coming from Blues' compound mistakes.

The fact the Highlanders could reach the break with a nine-point lead and barely having played any rugby kind of said it all. No one needs to hit third gear to coast past the Blues.

The Highlanders did at least manage one quality moment of their own when Hosea Gear collected his second try 30 seconds into the second half. Ben Smith, whose All Black fortunes collapsed on this ground a year ago when he had an off night, somehow stepped and shimmied until a huge hole opened and then he erupted. He backed his pace to go all the way, just about made it, but threw a perfect pass inside to his wing and that was the ball game.

Obviously it became imperative for the visitors to collect the bonus point; no one would feel it was a job well done taking just the four.

Blues 20 (T. Mailau, T. Woodcock tries; G. Anscombe con, 2 pens; L. Munro con), Highlanders 27 (T. Ellison, H. Gear 2, A. Thomson tries; C. Noakes 2 cons, pen). Halftime: 6-15.